Oct 23, 2009

The Commute

It's 6:00 A.M. Monday morning. Time to go to work--a quick self portrait on the way out the door.

I had this idea for some time that I was going to do a picture blog that takes you through a typical day in my new life here in America. I've come to the conclusion that it's too hard. It's too hard to remember to take pictures of each part of my day, too hard to get others to take photos of me so that you actually get to see me doing my thing. So I've decided to abandon that idea in favor of a few posts here in there in the weeks and months to come focusing on various aspects of ordinary life for us. Today, it's the commute.

People really feel sorry for me because of my commute. "Oh, the drive must be so hard," they commiserate. Actually it's not so bad. I rather enjoy it actually. In the morning, I spend some time praying (with eyes open of course--while it's vital to walk by faith and not by sight, driving by sight remains a must!), listen to "Morning Edition" on the local NPR affiliate, WYSO out of Dayton/Yellow Springs, and round out the drive with some music from my ipod. On the return trip in the afternoon, I start with some music and end with "All Things Considered" and my current NPR favorite "Marketplace" hosted by the super-chilled out Kai Ryssdal. I love his laidback delivery of the latest economic news--"The S&P fiiiiiive-hundred dropped a tenth. . ." And I'm always fascinated by the program,s down-to-earth and easily accessible insights into the financial world. It really is as they say, a money show for the rest of us.

I may also add some podcasts to my drivetime menu. My best friend J has introduced me to radio preacher James McDonald, and as much as I tend to be skeptical of media evangelists in general, I have to admit what I've heard of him so far is pretty good.

On rare occasions I may indulge in a phone call during the drive. I generally don't like to drive and talk--I don't think it's very safe, but sometimes I've relented if the traffic is stalled or conversely the highway is pretty empty. Sometimes I just get a zeal to talk to someone. Today I talked to mom for a bit. Last Friday on the drive home, I talked to Virle for almost an hour, getting the update on all the latest Saipan happenings. This past Tuesday, I talked to Ken and Crystal Pierson on the drive to Columbus. It's kind of surreal to be talking to old friends back home in Saipan while whizzing through southern and central Ohio at 75 miles per hour.

The commute is a valuable time for me to think and reflect--for someone who has always had to be busy, the drive ironically forces me to slow down. Many mornings I'm treated to vibrant sunrises, and the late afternoon sun bathing the fields and farms along the freeway is gorgeous too. The upside to a late departure from Columbus is that I get to see some spectacular sunsets too in final miles of the drive, just as "Marketplace" is coming to an end and Public Radio International's "The World" is coming on.

After tracing the same space of freeway for close to two months, I know the way intimately--there are dozens of little landmarks all along the way. The glowing neon of the Robert's Center sign, visible for several miles in either direction; the place where I-71 expands from four to six lanes and then contracts again; the "Do You Know Where You are Going When You Die" and "Hell is Real!" signs proselytizing in bold red and white letters from the roadside. I even have all the green "miles to go" signs memorized.

Early AM on the freeway.

Dawn. Entering Columbus city limits. Traffic generally slows here as I thread my way through the city, changing lanes constantly to stay on I-71 until I switch to I-670 for the final mile of highway driving.

Off the highway and on to Leonard, from there to Sunbury and about three and half miles to the school. It's about ten minutes of two lane black top winding through recently built subdivisions, the stately campus of Ohio Dominican Univeristy (where I've registered to start taking classes for my Masters degree incidentally), and stands of trees, brilliant in their fall plumage

The commute actually contains some genuine benefits too. For one, this school year I've gotten some of the best sleep I've had in the last ten years. Being fully rested and alert is a non-negotiable when you have a three hour round trip every day. I did the whole stay up/late get up early thing a few times this school year and my resulting drowsiness on the road was truly terrifying. I refuse to take risks like that, so I make sure I always get eight hours, of sleep, even if it means getting to work a little later than I'd like. The great thing is that, not only am I not sleepy on the trip to and from Columbus, but I'm at full strength all day at school. Unlike last school year in Saipan, there's no more post-lunch nodding off, no more struggling to get through the afternoon classes and prep time, no more self-medicating with caffeine.

The other great benefit to the commute is that, despite my zealous commitment to eight hours of sleep, most days I arrive at work much earlier than I did at my job in Saipan. In Saipan it was a newsworthy achievement when I got to worship on time, much less five or ten minutes early. Now I generally arrive anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes before staff worship. I'm often one of the first staff members to arrive, even though I drive longer and further than anyone else to get there. (It does help that school doesn't start until 8:45 A.M.) The funny thing is I'm usually late for work on the days when I stay overnight in Columbus at J's house. Even though I'm only 20 minutes away, on those days I'm usually racing to get to the school before my studens do.

First one to arrive.

The school grounds in the early morning.

Fueling up on the Word before the day begins.

So hard parts of the commute aren't connected to the drive at all. The hard part is the hit to our budget in gas--we budget $250 a month for gas and that's barely enough--and the toll on our car's mileage. I'm averaging about 3000 miles a month and have already added 9000 miles to the car since we bought it at the beginning of August.

But the hardest part of the commute is the time away from my family. Most days I see The Little Feller for only 30 minutes out of the entire day. On days when I overnight in Columbus, I may go two days without seeing him. This is very difficult and for me the best way to deal with it, is simply not to think about it or them When I'm in Columbus, I'm fully there--I block out everything else. I don't let me thoughts linger too long on my loved ones, because the missing would become too much to bear. Babs and I see a little more of each other, but only a little. We try to make up for it with our weekly Saturday night dates, but it still often feels like we barely see each other. I miss my family, and for that reason, the best part of the commute is coming home.

A beautiful sight at the end of a long day and a long drive!


Mai said...

Haha, you always look so serious in your self-photos! ;) Even though my commute is only 20 minutes, I hated it at the beginning. I still don't really like it, but I'm beginning to try to appreciate it and make it of good use. And yes, I know my commute so very well already too. I know exactly which places the traffic will slow down and speed up, thus which lanes I need to be in in order to not get stuck in the slow stuff. It really is a science!

Anonymous said...

great post! feels just like i've been on your commute with you now! loved it!