Last year, Midas, the muffler company, in honor of its fiftieth anniversary, gave an award for America’s longest commute to an engineer at Cisco Systems, in California, who travels three hundred and seventy-two miles—seven hours—a day, from the Sierra foothills to San Jose and back. “It’s actually exhilarating,” the man said of his morning drive. “When I get in, I’m pumped up, ready to go.” People like to compare commutes, to complain or boast about their own and, depending on whether their pride derives from misery or efficiency, to exaggerate the length or the brevity of their trip. People who feel they have smooth, manageable commutes tend to evangelize. Those who hate the commute think of it as a core affliction, like a chronic illness. Once you raise the subject, the testimonies pour out, and, if your ears are tuned to it, you begin overhearing commute talk everywhere: mode of transport, time spent on train/interstate/treadmill/homework help, crossword-puzzle aptitude—limitless variations on a stock tale. People who are normally circumspect may, when describing their commutes, be unexpectedly candid in divulging the intimate details of their lives. They have it all worked out, down to the number of minutes it takes them to shave or get stuck at a particular light. But commuting is like sex or sleep: everyone lies. It is said that doctors, when they ask you how much you drink, will take the answer and double it. When a commuter says, “It’s an hour, door-to-door,” tack on twenty minutes.
体育投注平台Seven hours is extraordinary, but four hours, increasingly, is not. Roughly one out of every six American workers commutes more than forty-five minutes, each way. People travel between counties the way they used to travel between neighborhoods. The number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way—known to the Census Bureau as “extreme commuters”—has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990. They’re the fastest-growing category, the vanguard in a land of stagnant wages, low interest rates, and ever-radiating sprawl. They’re the talk-radio listeners, billboard glimpsers, gas guzzlers, and swing voters, and they don’t—can’t—watch the evening news. Some take on long commutes by choice, and some out of necessity, although the difference between one and the other can be hard to discern. A commute is a distillation of a life’s main ingredients, a product of fundamental values and choices. And time is the vital currency: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth.
This winter, a friend told me about a colleague of hers named Judy Rossi, a legal secretary at Arnold & Porter, a firm in Manhattan, who has a commute of three hours and fifteen minutes each way—six and a half hours a day, five days a week. If you discount vacation time, this adds up to two months a year. Rossi lives in Pike County, Pennsylvania, in the northeast corner of the state. (It is the fastest-growing county in Pennsylvania, owing in part to an infusion of extreme commuters.) Her alarm goes off at 4:30 A.M.体育投注平台 She’s out of the house by six-fifteen and at her desk at nine-thirty. She gets home each evening at around eight-forty-five. The first thing Rossi said to me, when we met during her lunch break one day, was “I am not insane.”
体育投注平台Rossi has an extensive commuter career; it encapsulates a broad range of fortunes. She is fifty-seven years old. Born and reared in Flatbush, Brooklyn, she married at the age of twenty and had a son, but was divorced after four years. She paid her lawyer by going to work for him as a secretary. For ten years, she took the subway to his office in Manhattan every day—an hour and a half each way. When the neighborhood began to change, in the early eighties—when her son could no longer ride his bicycle around the corner without being pushed off it—she moved upstate, to Orange County, a burgeoning exurb. She married a firefighter, with whom she commuted to the city by motorcycle (an hour and a half each way). She would sometimes fall asleep on the back. His firehouse was in the South Bronx; he’d drop her off at a subway station nearby, and she’d complete the journey to midtown. He died in 1999. Five years ago, she bought four acres in Pike County, on the outskirts of Milford, and built her dream house there, a piece of the country, a place to retire. For a while, she tried driving, but found that her fatigue at the end of the day made the trip treacherous. And it got expensive—gas, tolls, tires. The bus was cheaper, but it depressed her. So she began to take the train, which (with parking) costs her four hundred dollars a month. This does not include the cost of her reading material, which Rossi, employing prison logic, treats as a kind of tinder for the burning of time. “Books cost money”—she doesn’t have time to go to a library—“so I try to stretch them out,” she told me. Still, she reads a book a week.
One evening, Rossi let me tag along. I met her in the lobby of her office building, on Lexington Avenue, at Fifty-third Street. It was five-thirty. Out of haste rather than rudeness, she didn’t stop to greet me but headed through the revolving doors and diagonally across the avenue, toward the subway entrance. She wore a down overcoat, a red backpack, a pin that read “I ♥ my dog,” a fortifying layer of makeup, and an expression of wry resignation. Her trip home consists of a subway ride on the E train to Pennsylvania Station (seventeen minutes), a New Jersey Transit train to Secaucus (eleven minutes), and a transfer there to a train that heads northwest to the end of the line, in Port Jervis, New York (two hours). From there, she drives across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania (thirty minutes). Missing the six-eighteen to Port Jervis can cost her an additional twenty-one minutes, so she has crafted a commute with just enough slack time (a total of about fifteen minutes) to keep it anxiety-free. She’s an escalator-stander. “I hate running for trains,” she said.
The commuter takes on compulsive attributes. Some people decipher where on a subway train it is best to ride, for optimum exiting, and, therefore, where to stand on the platform, by a particular pay phone or blackened patch of gum. On the E train, Rossi knows where she should be—the front positions her best for Penn Station—but she prefers to be farther back, where it is less crowded. Also, she never boards any train’s first or last car. “If there’s an accident, they’re the first to go off the track,” she said. On the subway, she always stands, and never reads, for fear of missing her stop. She stood on the next train, too—the five-fifty-two to Long Branch, first stop Secaucus. “We’ll make it fine, unless we get stuck in the tunnel,” she said, then added quickly, “I shouldn’t say that.”
In Secaucus, she joined other regulars out on the platform. One of them was a man who works at an auto-parts dealership in Queens, commuting two hours each way from Harriman, New York. He had on a T-shirt that said “Daytona Bike Week 2007,” and in 1995 he was one number away from winning ten million dollars in the lottery. He reasoned that he makes thirty-five per cent more money working in the city than he would near home. Rossi, whose salary is under a hundred thousand dollars, estimates that she makes twice as much, although it’s been years since she actually looked.