Extreme Commutes

Talking to the nurse in the doctor’s office she shared she had a long commute, “it’s only 32 miles” she said, “but it takes 2 hours because of traffic.” She didn’t like four hours of her day spent driving, she did however like her job, and felt lucky since she had to work. Other nurses in that same office shared similar stories of 2 hours commute to work.  Of course living in Southern California where things are so spread out, such stories are not unusual. Yet when the NYT published an article about what it called extreme commutes, and did it the very same day I had had that conversation with the nurse, I had to pay attention. Decades ago, commuting is what created the suburbs. People moved further away so as to be able to own better homes, have better schools, enjoy better neighborhoods. The motive is the same now, people move away to have access to better living conditions. But I  found something disturbing in the Times article. It’s not the commute, I’ve commuted myself rather long distances on both coasts.  It’s the extreme aspect of it. It’s the fact that this is now a trend, a sort of new normal, that the people mentioned in the article had one way commutes longer than 2 hours. I couldn’t help thinking that if property values were not so high, that if cities were better planned and better organized around people rather than buildings, there may be a different outcome. The people for whom long commutes can be a hardship are middle class people, struggling to make sure their lives and that of their children has as much of what life has to offer as they can afford. Certainly people adjust, make the best of the commute, read, sleep, relax, open their laptops or unlock their phones. That’s not the point. The point is the underlying inequality of it. Certainly the people who commute do so out of choice. And yet it is like a bird in a cage, it can go anywhere as long as it is not outside the cage. Similarly people who chose a long commute do so not because they freely choose it or like it, but because that is the choice left them.