Last month, we asked readers to submit tried and true methods for dealing with the headaches of their daily commutes. Wow, did you ever respond. Who knew there were so many survival strategies being employed? Maybe all that time stuck in traffic really gets the creative juices flowing.
From a highway poet and lottery fantasist to a masochistic traffic jam seeker, legions of bikers and even one woman who takes out her Beltway frustration at a Rockville shooting range, we heard some intriguing methods for coping with the commuting grind. Here are just some of our favorites:
Every day I drive from Harpers Ferry to Dulles, passing beautiful scenery including the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, farms, wineries and wildlife. This should be enough to hold the attention of a city girl who grew up in New York and Chicago, but after the first hundred trips, I found myself just counting the miles and dodging deer.
Then I discovered the Mega Millions lottery sign in Hillsboro. Now every morning I check the jackpot and spend my drive deciding what I would do with the money if I won. On Monday and Friday evenings, I debate whether the jackpot is big enough to stop and buy a ticket. Monday and Tuesday mornings are also exciting because the sign shows if someone won the jackpot in the last drawing. I never check the numbers in the paper -- the sign will tell me if I need to keep driving.
-- Patricia A. Manzolillo,
Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
While on the subway or walking in the city, I observe:
* The Dorian Gray Principle: Two people with similar styles and who look alike, only one is a younger version of the other.
* Matches: Finding two separate individuals, unique in their own way, who match each other. I see many "twins."
* Introverts/Extroverts: Watching couples interact in public on the subway/bus. Some like the public viewing; others are more discreet.
* Dichotomies: People in familiar settings vs. new surroundings; vacationers vs. workers; friend/family groups vs. traveling individuals.
-- A. Martinez, Washington
ROAD TO GLORY
My husband's poet's garret is his little blue Geo Metro. He uses the copious time en route to and from NASA and Gaithersburg each day, quietly meditating on the Bible and composing reflective, God-glorifying poetry. He now has a whole book of penetrating, finely crafted poems.
-- Maureen Hartnett, Gaithersburg
Sixteen years ago, I moved to Mount Vernon fully aware of the 15 mile/30 minute car commute to my job at L'Enfant Plaza. Day after day, I sat in traffic; year after year, the traffic worsened. No more.
For the last 10 years I have ridden a bicycle to work along the Mount Vernon Trail. I started this rebellion with a small backpack and a road racing bike. The racer gave way to a commuter model, outfitted with fenders, generator light system and a rear rack. In 2003, I acquired a Tour Easy recumbent bicycle (with windshield no less).
In the last five years, I have averaged about 130 bicycle commutes per year. I don't save a dime in gas and parking since my wife, who works in the same office building, still drives. Why bother, you ask? I watch in fascination as the new Wilson Bridge rises from design concept to near completion in slow motion. I substitute egrets, herons, fish hawks, bald eagles, deer, turtles and bunnies for cars and buses. I smell the seasons instead of exhaust fumes. I hear the birds of spring instead of Idiot in the Morning on the radio.
-- John Pickett, Mount Vernon
My wife and I spent years commuting from West River to Arlington and Ft. Belvoir, crawling across the Wilson Bridge and spending an average of three hours a day behind the wheel. Our coping mechanism was a bit extreme: In 1998, we moved to Europe, trading our daily commute from hell for a delightful 20-minute walk to work. Returning to the D.C. area in 2004, we found work and a home in St. Mary's County, where we avoid the congestion and enjoy a 15-minute drive past waterfront retreats and Amish farms. We only see the Wilson Bridge on occasional weekends to visit "uptown" friends or satisfy a Thai food craving. Life is good.
-- Jim Carr, St. Mary's City
HEY, IF YOU SAY SO
For research for a book I was writing, I commuted to notoriously bad spots (Mixing Bowl, American Legion Bridge, Southeast-Southweat Freeway, I-270 spur), seeking out clogs where the radio reported an accident or some other slowdown. To my surprise, no matter how bad the tie-ups were, they didn't bother me. I simply could not find a terribly upsetting mess, even in the rain! Other drivers would pound their steering wheels, and I'd feel calm.
I now have a policy of welcoming bad traffic. In fact, I hold little contests to find the worst jams of any given week, month and year. Very few of the so-called traumatic tie-ups even come close to setting a record. If you don't believe me, try it for a couple of weeks! Seek out and embrace the so-called "enemy," and for some strange reason it seems to transform into something neutral and acceptable.
-- Carole Sargent, Alexandria
I used to jog at lunch to check out houses for sale nearby my work. I found one located a 16.5-minute walk from my job in Bethesda. I have a house in Italy and am trying to increase my Italian vocabulary. When I come across an Italian word I do not know, I look it up and write the word and the definition on a scrap of paper. I review these during the arduous 16.5-minute trek. The commute proceeds sovramagnificentissimamente.
-- Stephen Mark Ulissi, Bethesda
(and Teramo, Italy)
To make my commute better and reduce the stress it was causing me. I invented the commuter nap. My commute was from Anacostia to Merrifield. I would wake up 4 a.m. and make the 15 minute drive (after 5:30 a.m. the drive could take anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes). I packed a pillow, a small blanket, a toothbrush and a face rag. When I got to work, I parked the car, cracked the windows, got in the back seat and took a nap. I didn't have an alarm clock because I didn't need one. My co-workers, who had been stuck in traffic, would wake me up with their grumbling and slamming doors when they arrived. I woke up refreshed and on time each day.
-- S. Stevens, Washington
THE RIGHT PERSON
I've been with the same carpool partner for nearly 15 years. That's longer than many marriages last. We agreed early on to not talk about work in the car. There have been exceptions, but they're rare. We also agreed that when there are major tie-ups that would prevent a reasonable commute, we would phone our homes and stay in Washington for dinner. We took turns driving and agreed that we would drive at about the speed limit, not tailgate others and not drive aggressively.
We made an effort to create a low-stress commute and stuck with our plan. We go to work just early enough to avoid most traffic and are able to go home at a reasonable hour, allowing ourselves time to have lunch or go to the gym. Over the years, our low-stress commute became an easy habit.
-- Dorey E. Evans, Springfield
If you see me laughing out loud, early in the morning, I've probably tuned my radio to AM 570, and traded NPR's melancholy for "Imus in the Morning." Great interviews with top reporters and politicians, hit-and-miss comedy, and occasionally intolerable visits with his dreadful friends. This show brightens up the Beltway.
-- Debra Hartmann, Silver Spring
FIVE NO-STRESS TIPS
My commute is Fairfax to Rockville. Here's what helps me stay sane and reduce stress:
1. Work from home a few days a week. This costs my employer nothing and they gain a happy, productive worker. I regain two hours of my life several days per week.
2. Work through the week between Christmas and New Year's and you are guaranteed one low traffic week per year.
3. Take all your vacation time and spend it in a sparsely populated area such as North or South Dakota or something more far-flung such as New Zealand or the Aussie outback and you are guaranteed a few more low-traffic weeks a year.
4. Get a job that requires lots of airplane travel and you can marvel at other cities' wimpy traffic while avoiding Washington's.
5. Visit Gilbert Indoor Range (in Rockville) after a difficult day and shoot a few rounds while the rush hour jam diminishes. You can relieve all your work-related stress and improve your aim.
-- Kate Schwarz, Fairfax