I’m ready to hang it up, to get off the hook. After decades of commuting to and from work, traveling over 300,000 miles, from Franklin to Burlington, to Westboro, to Cambridge, to Fall River and Hyde Park (Boston) too, and chugging along around the speed limit, I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours, usually 50 hours per month, a “mega-commuter” for most of my career.
An hour drive grows on you.
While American cities tend to have the lowest average commuting time in the world according to a study conducted by the Toronto Board of Trade in 2014, Boston’s average commute is about the same as San Francisco’s (30 minutes each way), whereas Shanghai’s average commute is over 50 minutes each way. Mine is over 60 minutes, and has given me freedoms to think, listen, dream and scheme, listen and meditate, observe and watch scenery along the way. Driving to and from work is no easy feat; I have to be alert all the time. Sometimes I have to maneuver around other vehicles as well as potholes and dead animals. I see drivers texting and phoning, applying nail polish and mascara, and not just in traffic slowdowns and congestion. Others pick their nose, give me the finger and blare hip hop or other sounds I’m really not familiar with. I’m with the NPR crowd, and have lost touch with the music of the Millenials. Commuting is often the hardest part of my day (and night).
While over 75% of commuters drive alone to work and ba, what they do with the time is very individual I would guess. I have a number of activities aside from snacking, listening to NPR and occasionally Rock, and dreaming up new businesses centered on commuting.
Sometimes I conjure up a gratitude list, starting with the letter “A”, thinking of all the things I am grateful for – my daily Fuji or Granny Smith Apple, the air I breathe, the best month of the year, August, and then letter “B” for my beloved Boston Red Sox and sports teams from Boston, my son Ben, the colors blue, black and bronze, the beautiful blue sky overhead (though it’s usually grey in Massachusetts). I have lots to be grateful for as I drive along Routes 95, 495, 128, 1, and the Mass Pike. I try to use this practice to overcome my displeasure with the frequent traffic congestion, stoppage and boredom. Sitting and driving when I want to be physically active. Such a drag!
In order to enjoy my time, I’ve listened to scores and scores of audiobooks (another “A” word) from favorite authors like Stephen King, Sebastian Unger, Erik Larson, Tracy Kidder, Bill Bryson and Dennis Lahane. Some favorites that come to mind are from Stephen King: “Under the Dome”, a 30 CD set which ended too soon, “Cugo”, and “11/23/63” which was essentially a love story as much as a science fiction time traveler story. Also Stephen King’s: “The Colorado Kid”, “The Girl who loved Tom Gordon”, “Joylamd” (which I didn’t enjoy very much), “Revival”, and “Mr. Mercedes” and “Finder’s Keepers”.
I have always enjoyed biographies and memoirs including Hillary Clinton, Ted Turner (“Ted”), Vladimir Putin, “Francona: the Red Sox Years”, Elvis Costello (which I didn’t finish), “Billy Crystal: Still Fooling ‘Em”, “Kick Kennedy” and “Raising Cubby: John Elder Robison”. I’m very interested in hiw decisions are made, motivation, psychology, neurology and cognitive science. Brain on Fire: My month of madness is testament to this interest. Recently I have been more interested in events leading up to WW II and the war itself, and have listened to “Escape from Auschwitz”, and Remembering Anne Frank”.
Unger has written a few books including a “Death in Belmont” about the Boston Strangler, and “Fire”. Occasionally, I listen to “Car Talk”, the NPR radio show featuring Tom and Ray Magliozzi. While the show ended in 2012 after the death of one of them, I continue to listen to their audiobooks and listen to repeats at 11 am on Saturday mornings when dong errands. I listen to John Grisham but have never paid attention to the titles of his stories so I don’t know which ones I’ve heard, except for “the Whistler”, which I’m finishing this week.
Aside from “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption”, I shy away from Laura Hildebrand, though I have read about her unusual writing habits. “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown was unusual and enjoyable. Speaking of sports, the best baseball book I ever heard was about a weekend in August detailing manager Tony La Russo’s decision making prowess and personal life, but whose title escapes me. Could it be “A Weekend in August”?
Other audiobooks I heard were Bill Bryson’s “A Sunburned Country”. Others in no particular order are “Bad Monkey” by Carl Hiassen, “Money Ball” by Michael Lewis, and “Saturday”, “Solar” and “Atonement” by Ian Mc Ienery (which I probably misspelled), “The Girl in the Train” by Paula Hawkins, “The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon, “Low Pressure” by Sandra Brown, and the “John Lennon Letters”. (While written by his ex-wife and son Julian, they relay stories about how he was not a very nice man. He was emotionally abusive and neglectful.) Anything by Denns Lahane is spellbinding including “The Drop”, “Live by Night”, “Mystic River” and “World Gone By”.
For about one year I worked and lived in Franklin and didn’t have the pleasure of audiobooks, but did enjoy a commute with no traffic, no slowdowns, no congestion. Sometimes I wished my commute had been longer. Mega commutes help one slow down and unwind which was particularly helpful when after a full day of work at a start-up, it would be me and the boys as my wife worked nights.