Monday, April 23, 2007

Take a Break, Driver 8

What with all the book learning I've been doing, I nearly fell behind on my periodical reading.

Have you read the piece in The New Yorker on commuting? Very, very interesting, I thought. According to the writer Nick Paumgarten, "the number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way...has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990."

He chalks this up to urban spawl (I think housing prices have something to do with it--maybe that falls under the umbrella of urban sprawl), but in any case, the commute affects quality of life.

Commuting makes people unhappy, or so many studies have shown. Recently, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger asked nine hundred working women in Texas to rate their daily activities, according to how much they enjoyed them. Commuting came in last. (Sex came in first.) 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. In short, you are not spending time with other people. The two hours or more of leisure time granted by the introduction, in the early twentieth century, of the eight-hour workday are now passed in solitude. You have cup holders for company.

When I was writing the book (and a couple years prior), Brandon was commuting about two hours each day. We used to live closer to his job, but the town we lived in was just not a good match for us. I made a total of four friends the whole seven years we lived there (one of whom is Lauren!). We moved over here, and while it greatly improved the quality of our weekends, the commute started wearing on my man.

On his end, it apparently wasn't very fun to leave the house when it's dark out and leave work when it's dark out. On my end, it wasn't very fun to have to cook dinner every single night. (It was that or eat at 7, and we're simply not European enough to eat so late.) It all became very Hello, exhausted husband! Have some frozen pizza!

Last summer, Brandon got a job in town, and this pleases us very much. He commutes five minutes, fifteen if he rides his bike. He comes home for lunch every day. Our frozen pizza consumption is greatly reduced.

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