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The Connoisseur of Commuting Returns To Carpooling

July 29th, 2011 by Alison · 2 Comments · transportation, work

What are the best and worst commutes you’ve ever had? I’ve noticed that while pretty much everyone prefers work (or school) they can feel passionate about*, our daily commutes can also be a make or break in our quality of life. My friend Christina got hundreds of hits earlier this month when she guest-posted about her joy-riding new bicycle commute that makes her glow with vitality.

I’ve become a connoisseur of commuting, 3 ½ years now into my job that lies in Salem, Oregon while I live 50 miles north in Portland. Teleworking is an absolute godsend, and I’m doing it today. (I carefully negotiated for the right to telework two days a week before I accepted this job). I’m peaceful, centered and hassle-free sitting here on my couch right now wearing the comfy, not at all professional sky-blue fleece pants I bought on a Goodwill shopping spree with my friend Libby.

But I digress. I just changed (improved) the rest of my commute after 2 1/2 years of vanpooling to Salem. (Prior to that, I carpooled with five others for a year). This time, I used Drive Less Connect to find a carpool partner who lives much closer to my Mt. Tabor neighborhood than the vanpool meeting place that was two freeways away, up in Northeast Portland by the Rose Quarter. It seems silly to be ecstatic about reducing a 100 mile round trip commute by maybe eight miles. But it makes a significant difference to my quality of life.

It leaves me ten more minutes to get organized in the morning before I leave the house. I get home 30-40 minutes earlier in the evening, partly because my carpool partner Cory leaves Salem at 4:40 p.m. instead of 5:00 as the vanpool did. Cory is even willing for me to leave all the driving to him (I’m paying him $7/ride, happily). I can write and read in the carpool just as I did in the vanpool. But here’s the other thing that makes my new commute happier: lively, interesting conversation. Any connoisseur of commuting knows that every vanpool and carpool has its own culture. The culture of the vanpool I was in until recently was very civil and considerate. But it was impersonal, partly because we had steady turnover and 12-17 people involved in it at any one time. People typically kept to themselves, either napping or intent on electronics during the two hours we rode in the van together. In contrast, Cory and I banter and exchange opinions for part of every drive. I’m a liberal Christian and he’s an atheist with real respect for religion. This topic alone kept us happily occupied for the space of an entire traffic jam on I-5 yesterday afternoon, which without that conversation would have been mind-numbingly boring. I arrived at his house in a fine mood, just a ten-minute hop in my hybrid from home rather than twenty stoplights away in rush-hour traffic.

I tell you, sharing the ride and tweaking your commute can make a great difference to your quality of life. So can negotiating for telework privileges before you take a new job. And both styles of commuting reduce pollution and save money. Please consider leaving a comment about the best or worst commute you’ve ever had.

* My husband and I are both fortunate enough to have work we’re passionate about. He manages the nation’s leading renewable energy program at Portland General Electric, and I work for the state of Oregon managing — of all things — a transportation options program.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Colleen

    I like this post! Your idea that your commuting journey is now an even better one parallels — a bit, stick with me here — my theme at my blog http://www.goodjourneys.wordpress.com. I think it’s always important to assess value every time we take a journey. Is the journey ‘worth it,’ to you and to others? Is it going to make me a better, happier person? Is it honoring the environment as much as possible? Of course, sometimes the journey not taken at all (like teleworking) is the best choice. But venturing out is valuable on so many levels — for work, for play, for connecting with new people and cultures , the list goes on — that it’s important we all ‘get out there’ in as smart a way as possible.

  • Alison

    I just read your post and commented on it. Beautiful writing, and I definitely see the connection you’re drawing. YES to assessing the value of each journey we take.

    Incidentally, I think that becoming a better person and becoming a happier person are two different things. Some people are happy, but not principled or kind. I do cultivate joy in my life (and I know that you do too :) ). More important to me, though, is becoming a progressively better person, one who is strong in hard moments. Happiness doesn’t necessarily teach us strength.

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