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The dreaded commute

Once upon a time, after I had moved from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, a business associate of mine told me he was taking the family south for a first-time visit to Disneyland. He asked, “What’s the best time to go through Los Angeles to avoid the traffic?”

I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “Well, just stay off the freeways during rush hours, about 6 until 10 a.m. and, maybe, 3 until 6 p.m.”

What I didn’t know until they got back and he told me what he thought of my advice was that, in the few years since I’d been away, things had changed. There was no such thing as “rush hour” anymore – it’s bumper to bumper all day long!

Seems like everybody’s in their car all day every day. Makes a person wonder, “Doesn’t anybody work anymore?”

When I was a young guy climbing life’s ladder, I had it pretty good compared to most of those who lived and worked in Los Angeles. Somehow I managed to avoid the dreaded “L.A. commute”. I always lived near where I worked or in a part of town where it was just a short and painless hop on the freeway.

No such luck for our daughters. One lives in a suburb of Seattle and the other on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho, and they both have scary commutes. Like so many other places in the West, both these cities are in, out-of-control, kick butt, over-the-top, growth mode.

What comes to my mind are San Francisco and San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, Seattle and Tacoma – once separate cities but now morphed into megalopoli. Wait, is that a word?

Here are a few tidbits from a recent conversation with our little girl, Kelly. They’re always our little girls, right?

Hers is a commute of about 25 miles each way from a northern suburb into and out of the city of Seattle. It takes her about an hour each way. She leaves home at 5:30 a.m. and, instead of getting on the Interstate, has an alternate route that works better for her. She’s telling me about a few of her commuting problems:

Kelly: “But, we also have bridges to worry about. They raise them during rush hour.”

Dad: “That doesn’t sound real smart. They should just tell the boaters to hang out, have another beer and chill ‘til rush hour is over, a much better deal for everybody.”

Kelly: “Accidents are another issue, Dad. EVERYBODY has to slow down to see what’s happening. I try to make eye contact as if to say, ‘Have you had your fill?’ ‘What, no bodies?’ ‘Are you disappointed?’

Dad: “If they get a good look maybe they’ll get the message that driving is no joke. And, by the way, eye contact is not recommended anymore. Some see it as a challenge and react badly.”

Kelly: “Sooooo many people wait until the last minute to merge.  I want to teach these people a lesson and not give them any room to cut in.”

Dad: That’s road rage, honey, don’t do that.

Kelly: “I admit to some slightly aggressive behavior, but I really do try to be courteous and considerate, and I try to let people in and not to tailgate. It’s the senseless stuff that really makes me mad!”

Dad: Roger that, petunia, couldn’t have said it better myself but don’t get mad, that takes away the good part of what you said. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the ride.

I admit it, I worry about my girls and their daily commutes. For so many people commuting has become a routine part of their working day. Some spend as much as four hours a day and even more just getting to and from work. It becomes so routine that we might forget the dangers of what we’re doing.

Before you turn the key each morning stop and think, “Hey, I could die or killed somebody in this thing today!” Commuting can be hazardous to your health.

One more thought. Recently I showed my class a video taken by the California Highway Patrol showing a man driving at high speed on a crowded Los Angeles freeway with a sandwich in his left hand, his right hand on his laptop and he was steering with his knees!

He had both hands off the wheel for twenty-one seconds! Needless to say he was pulled over and cited before he killed somebody. I would have taken his car keys away — for good!

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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