Everyone knows that a lot of people who work in DC live outside the city, but the numbers in this recent WaPo article were shocking. Seventy percent of you commute from the suburbs?! Yeesh. Commuting is a lot like commercials; just like when you think you hate television but then, upon watching it, realize you actually hate commercials (commercials have rendered sports pretty much unwatchable), it’s the same with commuting and work. You may think you hate your job, but most likely you just hate your commute. If your commute is just 80 minutes long (not an unusual length at all), by the end of the week, you’ve basically added an entire sixth day to your workweek. An unpaid day. Extrapolate that over a career, and experts estimate that the average worker spends over a year of their life commuting to and from work. That is chilling.
But the truth is, unless you’re going to quit your job and live under a bridge, there’s no way to get around wasting that year. So you might as well make it as pleasant as possible. To that end, let’s get to the hacks …
I used to commute from Shaw to Herndon. (Yes, Herndon.) This took anywhere between 80 and 120 minutes, each way. The worst part were all the overheard conversations; people arguing about someone’s bag hitting them in the head, d-bags bragging about their four-figure bar tabs from the previous night. Noise-canceling headphones erased all that. They’re like a portable little coccoon of serenity powered by triple-A batteries. The only downside was that the silence can be so womb-like that you drift off to sleep; I once woke up on a bus that had gone so far into exurban Virginia that when I looked out the window there was a Depression-era type hobo walking along the highway with a bindle. Oops.
Or turn off your phone. Whatever. Just don’t look at the time. This tip was given to me by a coworker and it was the best commuting advice I ever received. You don’t realize how much of your commute is needlessly stressing over things you can’t control. Once you’re on the train/bus/bike, whether you get to work on time is pretty much out of your hands, so what’s the point of worrying about it? Removing your watch from the equation turns your commute from a race against the clock into a relaxing interlude of leisure time. Really, if there’s one big upside to a long commute on public transit, it’s the fact that you’re not in control and thus not responsible for any outcomes. Which is to say, when you’re late, you can just stroll in and say, “sorry, traffic was bad and the bus driver had never driven that route before!” And there’s not a thing your boss can do about it. (Except fire you.)
The worst part about commuting is waiting for your train/bus/streetcar/whatever. Swaying in place on the Metro while staring blankly into space is bad enough, but there’s something especially demoralizing about doing that on the train platform or at the bus stop. Not to mention the fact that seeing a train pull out just as you stroll into the station can get your day off to the worst start imaginable. Luckily there are apps that track trains and buses in real time, so you can get to the stop just as the bus is pulling in instead of just as it’s pulling out. You’ll never waste your time waiting to waste your time again.
I have several friends who commute from Maryland who swear that listening to Rosetta Stone language courses during their drives/train rides has changed their lives. One of my friends who drives to downtown DC from Silver Spring has learned Spanish, French, and Japanese in the past five years, which means he can now go to any of those countries and be misunderstood and laughed at by the natives. His comically poor accent notwithstanding, he says it’s taken dead wasted time and turned it into productive time – at least in his own mind. And now that he gets to work with the feeling that he’s already accomplished something, it’s that much easier to not do a lick of work until after lunch. Bonus!
Look, maybe you have an okay job, or maybe you have an okay apartment, but I promise you that one or the other – if not both – is replaceable. If you’re commuting over an hour a day, you need to start prioritizing your quality of life, because as it is, your quality of life is garbage. I once had an office job downtown that was five minute bike ride from my house. Five minutes! If I hit all green lights, I could get home in four. Residual fluorescent light radiation and k-cup fumes were still steaming from my powder-blue dress shirt when I cracked open a beer in my backyard. Even though the job was crap, this microscopic commute made it almost bearable. After that job, I refused to take any job that required me to commute more than fifteen minutes, and I’ve never regretted it. (Though to be fair, I haven’t had a job since.)