The Soul of the Commuter


So, since my last entry was about large-installation systems administration, I figure it’s only appropriate that this next entry should be about my other “passion” — urban studies and planning. Jrandall forwarded me a link to this extremely interesting, but depressing article in the New Yorker.

Paumgarten studies the specific commutes of a handful of people with daily commutes that I would consider to be completely insane. There’s the dude in Atlanta who commutes in traffic for two hours or so each day. Apparently that’s a common thing in Atlanta, where they haven’t quite figured out how to make mass transit work, and apparently don’t quite subscribe to the theory of Induced Traffic, since they just keep building highways and highways. And there’s also the woman who works as a legal secretary in Manhattan, and lives in Pike County, PA. She’s got a commute of 3 hours and 15 minutes each way. The author follows her on a commute, and goes over the rundown of how she, and other similar people get to and from work everyday, and what they do while sitting in traffic or on the train.

The truly fascinating, and depressing, aspect of the article, however, is how these people justify the exchange they’ve made for hours of their lives every day. After a daily commute like that, when she gets home, the remainder of her evening is as follows: “…feeds her dogs, then heats up soup or pizza she buys at a pizzeria on weekends. She takes a shower and goes to bed, maybe watching a taped episode of CSI…” It seems like these people give up so much just for a bigger house, or a larger lot, or a nice place out in the woods. Am I the only one who sees the irony here? And I don’t mean Alanis Morisette fake irony either.

Here are some gems from the article:

“There’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.”

“The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar.”

” ‘Drive until you qualify’ is a phrase that real-estate agents use to describe a central tenet of the commuting life: you travel away from the workplace until you reach an exit where you can afford to buy a house that meets your standards. The size of the wallet determines that of the mortgage, and therefore the length of the commute. Although there are other variables (schools, spouse, status, climate, race, religion, taxes, taste) and occasional exceptions (inner cities, Princeton), in this equation you’re trading time for space, miles for square feet. Sometimes contentment figures in, and sometimes it does not.”

Anyway, it’s a fascinating read and isn’t overly long. Interesting stuff.

  1. #1 by amanda on July 24, 2007 - 11:32 am

    dear anne c.,
    THIS is why i won’t move to lowell.
    luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve

  2. #2 by MRhé on July 24, 2007 - 3:39 pm

    This is why I lurve walking to work.

  3. #3 by MRhé on July 24, 2007 - 4:20 pm

    Wow unbelievably depressing article. Ugh.