The Beltway is Killing Me

In the last few months, I've started feeling like shit. I'm tired, unenthusiastic, lethargic, uninspired... I can hardly draw the energy to be up Bernanke's ass and he works right down the block from me. Sad.

I've been thinking long and hard on what it could be sucking out my soul. I live in an awesome DC condo, have a pretty bad ass boyfriend, manage to work in this economy and actually love what I do. I'm grateful to be able to say that, so my actual life can't be it.

I'm surprised the answer hasn't come to me on my 45 minute long reverse commute out from DC into the Maryland suburbs and back every day. Maybe because I'm too busy screaming at people, rocking my foot back and forth on the brake, growling and generally cursing life.

Your commute can actually kill you, though WaPo says it happens in your 50s, not your 30s. You could fool me. I suffer through constant back pain (though that could be from any number of other factors), and a general shitty disposition that has to rub off on anyone around me.

I've been suffering through DC freeways for only a matter of months now and I'm already burned out. How do people do this for years at a time? I always considered myself kind of clever for living in the city and working in the suburbs but it doesn't seem to be any easier, except the traffic in the other direction looks only slightly more painful than mine. Tap. Tap. Taptap gaaaaasss tap. taptap. TAP. It will drive you fucking insane. Even my GPS knows traffic is going to be fucked up once I drop into any one of DC's many perpetually-a-construction-zone roads. It tries - in vain - to lead me away from the traffic and ends up dumping me on a worse stretch.

Here's one of my favorite financial smear mags, The Economist, on how "drive 'til you qualify" has made for many a miserable commuter (JDA not one of them):

Slate's Annie Lowrey had a great piece late last month rounding up the best research on the effects of commuting on human health and happiness. The article is pegged to Swedish researchers' discovery that a commute longer than 45 minutes for just one partner in a marriage makes the couple 40% more likely to divorce. But Ms Lowrey ends up running through the whole litany of traditional commuter complaints—that it makes us fat, stresses us out, makes us feel lonely, and literally causes pain in the neck—and finds research to prove that the moaners are, more often than not, right. "People who say, 'My commute is killing me!' are not exaggerators," she concludes: "They are realists." So why do we do it? Here's Ms Lowrey:

The answer mostly lies in a phrase forced on us by real-estate agents: "Drive until you qualify." Many of us work in towns or cities where houses are expensive. The further we move from work, the more house we can afford. Given the choice between a cramped two-bedroom apartment 10 minutes from work and a spacious four-bedroom house 45 minutes from it, we often elect the latter.

For decades, economists have been warning us that when we buy at a distance, we do not tend to take the cost of our own time into account. All the way back in 1965, for instance, the economist John Kain wrote, it is "crucial that, in making longer journeys to work, households incur larger costs in both time and money. Since time is a scarce commodity, workers should demand some compensation for the time they spend in commuting." But we tend not to, only taking the tradeoff between housing costs and transportation costs into question.

It was actually killing me.

While on vacation in Minneapolis, a random clerk asked what we were doing there. Vacation, I guess? It's difficult to explain to someone that you just picked a random city on the map and ran away for several days that didn't involve driving.

On my first day back in town after this alleged "vacation" (my laptop is still nuked after I accidentally neglected to remove it for TSA, oops), I practically panicked at the thought of having to hit DC freeways again.

Maybe a small part of me hoped my car would get jacked while I was gone.

Jr Deputy Accountant

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.


Brian said...

Nice piece. I giggled all the way thru. I found a solution for driving insanity. In fact I learned how to manage all that negative stuff. The answer is simple.

In the old days, I would simply avoid that type of commute. However, I had to come to terms with two things. The truth was, the problem was me. Could I find a solution? Yes.

Pete said...

I liked your article today JDA :)

Some useful information in there. I've always been one of those kind of people that tries to live close to work. I rent my place specifically for this purpose.

The way I see it, work travel time = money, and it is also time you could be spending at home. Even an hour of commuting a day = 5 hours a week = roughly 20 hours a month. You're looking at half a work week in monthly commuting alone!

The question is, what can you do about it? Can you change your work hours, so you start earlier and leave earlier (or vice versa)? Can you afford to move closer to work? Is there a work office closer to where you live? Would public transport be cost effective? (you can read/write blogs on the train/bus).

I also left a response on Brian's blog, but it doesn't relate so much to what you're talking about, unless you get frustrated by the 'expectation of other drivers to be competent' :)

Anonymous said...

8 miles from my door to work's door
3 miles of feeder road at 25 mph (give or take)
5 miles of I-44 at 85 mph (give or take)
Very enjoyable (most of the time).

Used to do a 35 mile one way from the hinterlands to downtown and my thought was "this is horseshit".