Reflections of a Commuter

img_508946,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.

The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.

August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.

I-75-interstate-75-highway6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.

As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.

But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.

57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.

A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.

12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.

My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.

img_5101Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.

Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?

*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

47 thoughts on “Reflections of a Commuter

  1. Hi Katherin. This was one of the first things I read by you, last year. I’ve been wanting to go back in your archive to read some of your old essays, now seemed like a good time since it’s been a couple weeks since your last post. I’m still just as impressed by your commuting determination, to do what you had to do on these crazy long trips. I can’t fathom how mentally and physically taxing all that driving was, your weariness comes through, in the end of this essay. Sure, there are productive, hands-free things you can do during a long drive. But as others here pointed out, we can agree all that time behind the wheel, on the road, takes an cumulative unseen toll, physically and psychically. You were definitely grinding, just doing what you had to do, working twice as hard to take advantage of an opportunity, taking the longer view. I have a very close friend who lived away from her partner for several years, when they were in the early part of their careers (in academia, too). I thought of them when I thought of you and Dwight being in different cities, for a while. At the time, I thought it was crazy, that they would live apart for so long. But over the years I learned this is far more common than I realized. The fact that you did this with the girls blows my mind, these were some challenging, tiring years for you as a family.

    I think part of why I came back to this essay is that we’re in such a fraught, interesting time because of the pandemic, where a lot of people in white collar work (because we know peoples’ choices about work varies wildly depending on the kind of work they do, right?) are rethinking work, where they work, how they get there, how much time they spend there. This is well documented, obviously. You crossed a threshold and pivoted but I wonder how pandemic-related changes in the workplace will affect people who choose (or feel like they have no choice) to make sacrifices similar to yours, to support themselves, their families and have work that’s rewarding or be on a path to something better? My s/o’s in a leadership role for her work, her firm has offices in a few different big cities across the country and she’s had to tackle this question about workplace very incrementally, it’s a super-delicate thing playing out similarly, in different places. There are lots of issues of equity, fairness, the very nature of work, the financial or social costs of being there versus not being there, how that affects the office environment, etc.. And this conversation is obviously biased toward cities and professional classes. It reminds me of my sisters who drive an hour from the country into towns for their jobs. but they don’t really have other options because they work as things like nurses

    Years ago, we made the decision to move as close-in as possible, to work, to eliminate as much time spent driving as possible. In vboth of our cases at the time, work meant downtown. A slow bus ride over a hill to downtown for us, is only 15 or 20 minutes, maybe a little more in heavy traffic. The boys’ mom goes to work really early a lot of mornings so she uses her car, it takes 10 minutes to get to her office. If she works late (which is often) it’s just a few mintues for her to pull up in the driveway. If there’s a snowstorm, she’ll just walk to downtown. She has a really hard job and being able to come home in a few minutes offsets some of the long hours. The major downside to this is a disproportion amount of our household income goes to housing in a hellaciously expensive place to live, we’ve got a mortgage we’ll never pay off. But it’s not a Faustian bargain to us. We feel really lucky, we know we’re privileged to have lived in tehg same place for many years now, to enjoy the benefits that come with being in the kind “urban village” where we have the luxury of walking to lots of places, like schools and parks, etc. And we’ve known all of our neigbhors for decades

    I’m really worried about the generation below you and me, adults in their twenties and thirties, what their options are going to be when it comes to work and where they live, as they reach middle age. The dream or ideas of having rewarding work and a place to call home is really in flux. I’m worried about what difficult choices my boys may have to make about where they work or where they’ll live, what crazy lengths they’ll have to resort to for control over their lives, like brutal commutes or less than understanding bosses.

    Yikes, me and my self indulgent comments that ramble too long and gradually lose the point you made. As usual, feel free to read this for your personal use but discard or save, it’s up to you. But I liked this essay and enjoyed your other readers’ comments/thoughts about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jason! At first, I was like who in the world dug this out of the depths of my blogging posts lol Glad to see it was you.

      There’s so much to response to, but I’m just going to say something about the last part. Quite honestly, the way the world is going, your kids may not even have jobs to commute/not commute to. There’s a huge push for AI to take over quite a few jobs, including so-called white collar ones, like lawyer :-/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, all too well, this blog resonates! I have been doing some reflecting of my own miles upon miles commute to and from work. 1500 miles. For two years while working in Child Welfare, that’s how many miles I drove every two weeks within the tri-county city of Orlando.

    Now, I drive 114 miles 5 days a week to work – the same amount of miles I drove to work while in Grad school.

    Lately, I’ve had similar thoughts: life is too short, time is too precious, and the miles are too many to commute daily.

    Thank you for sharing your mileage calculations; it really puts everything in perspective for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so not a commuter. I’ve been working in downtown Detroit for the last 15 or so years and that 30 min drive is about all the driving I want to do. Now I see what you meant about the likelihood of traveling regarding the career advice you shared with me. Definitely something to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can totally feel you dear Katherin. Yes, do explore in the possibility to either live closer to your work, or find more ways to work from home (maybe invest in better internet-connection instead of the tires for the car), or start looking for other job opportunities? Combining your skills (teaching, writing, editing) and create a job for yourself?
    Whatever you decide, it will be worth it, I am sure.

    My husband traveled for a year, 3 hours (back and forward, thus not as long as you) to his work. I saw how tired he became, plus the stress of living next to people who were not pleasant (to put in nicely), I told him ‘enough’. We moved closer to his work.
    Then the opportunity came to take a better payed, more importantly more stimulating job and although he started to commute….I quickly suggested to move to Germany.
    Not longer having to get up at 5 a.m. but 6.30 or 7 a.m. is a huge difference and having him at home earlier, so he has more relaxing time at night…he looks healthy again, instead of the pale face with dark circles beneath his eyes.
    It meant I had to give up my practice as an natural and energetic animal therapist, but with so many other interests, not a problem at all. If I really wanted, I could easily find a job here (still can), but I am in a very luxurious position I don’t have to. Ok, for a long time we didn’t go on vacations, had to be careful how we spend our money, but his health was and is to me more important. Best decision ever….he made promotions quick, being able to focus more, instead of commuting and he is truly challenged intellectually in the work he does now.
    Hope this helps in figuring out, what your next step will be 😉
    Good luck! XxX

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing this story Patty. I think the answer is slowly revealing itself, and part of it requires my being honest about the type of work environment I require for personal alignment. I’ll be sure to update you (and everyone else) when something changes 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s the hard part, being honest with yourself. I am convinced you will find the right solution for you. And yes, please do! Looking forward to indirectly follow you on your path 😉 XxX

        Liked by 1 person

  5. For many years, I had a 2 hour commute each way to work in NYC. Most often I drove, despite the associated expense of parking and tolls. That would allow me the luxury of getting home a little faster, if I left work late in the evening, rather than waiting in an empty railroad station for my train. Traffic is NYC is horrific. I wouldn’t have the stamina for that today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Anna. I cannot imagine commuting so much in a major city. I probably would never commit to driving like that, but who knows what my younger self would’ve been up to lol STAMINA is exactly the right word for it. My stamina has depleted.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I *abhor* commuting. I never want to have to drive more than 30 minutes round trip for work (without traffic), and even that now seems like too much/too far. When I was in Gainesville, my commute was seven minutes. Now, I can walk to work in 20 or bike in 10. I love my job, and I still wouldn’t want to commute for it. I am fortunate that I moved here for the job so was able to find housing near it (and afford that housing).

    When I went home to where I grew up some years ago, I took the metro to go to one of the malls, and I couldn’t believe that I had done that commute EVERY DAY for years. It took so long, and I was exhausted by just the thought of it.

    Anyway, I hope you are able to get a full online load or at least one of those nifty hybrid ones where you only go in once a week to cut your commute. Because…man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, things look a little different the older we become. Growing older is such a weird lesson in perspective. anywho, hope some more for me. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. And, these numbers are with a hybrid to a center once a week too, so yeah lol

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, I read your posting and half of me admired your drive and tenacity and the other half thought, “man, that is crazy.” The longest commute I have ever had was an 80 mile round trip commute to another school district. About a decade ago, I took a public teaching job under a temp certificate for 4th grade at an inner city school. The principal wanted me removed from the job as and I do admit I have improved immensely but she had one of her students she wanted to replace me with..she was a professor in the education dept. I refused…long story short, she gave me a non-renewal which seemed like a kiss of death at the time. Shortly afterwards, she retired. I went back to school, got my professional certificate and said “yes” to the first job in the next county was meant I had to jump on I-4 for a scenic ride to the middle of the country to work with students with emotional and behavioral disorders. I was the third teacher for the year but I made it through to the end of the year. Then I interviewed for a job in the Middle East. I had to take the day off and I still remember the new principal being annoyed with me for missing several days on a job interview in Atlanta. I think she finally felt she had someone who might sign up for the next year. I took the job in the Middle East and thus ended my I4 commute only for me to discover that it was expected I would willingly drive on the fast speedways of the Middle East to the new school. I hate commuting and as a result take into account where the new job is located and if I am able to handle it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I used to have a long driving commute in my early 20s which almost killed me from driving fatigued. As you know, I have a lomg commute now but love it as it is on the train and so I get 3 hours on each of my commuting days to read, write, daydream or sleep! I also love that it makes it possible for me to work at a place I love and also get a city fix a few days a week…oh, and a much better gym option than what I’d be sble to fo locally. Best of luck in finding a better balance. Might sound a bit like shit stirring, but why didn’t D move or change jobs to accommodate? So often women move on the trail of the man’s career…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, your commute sounds do-able because someone else is driving lol

      No shit stirring…
      For grad school, we were already well-established with the girls and a home, so I made a decision to drive.

      For the GA move, he actually did move at one point but couldn’t find a job. We’re a two-income family, so he then moved BACK to FL, which is why we commuted on the weekends.

      For the FL move back, neither of us wanted to move to Tallahassee, plus the original job was supposed to be temporary, so it wasn’t something we thought would last forever.

      For this job, I think I explained.

      Either way, I mostly decided to commute so the girls would have some sense of home stability.


    2. …and D did recently say we can move wherever I want for this next job. Now, the issue is waiting for Desi to graduate. So again, it’s usually my decision to keep my daughters in a space where they do not have to begin again.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ok. Sounds like you have really made the best decisions for career, family and relationship. It is a struggle making sure each part of life gets the time it deserves…good on you for going this long with such a tough commute, and good on you too for recognising when it is no longer serving you well. No doubt your next move will be amazing xx

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Kathy, I love this. To me, it is so powerful just to take a pause to open to what you truly want now. And the position of I don’t know allows such grace to come in for me!

    I’m in a consciousness, health and healing class this weekend, and one of my intentions is to do this very thing. Thank you Kathy! I love you. Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Debbie. I agree that is one of the first steps. LOA often says we should focus on what we want, instead of what we don’t want, so I’ve been doing that, plus focusing more on when I feel positive emotion that I want to sustain.

      Best of luck in your weekend class. Love you too ❤


  10. This is a terrible problem for a huge majority of US workers, K E — it’s work time that workers aren’t paid for. Such a dilemma. Though I don’t have any solutions, your bringing the subject up is part of getting everyone working on answers to it.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’d like to weigh in how important it is to try & make the time pass in a way that is as kind to ourselves as possible – for instance, I love listening to audio books, uplifting radio, music, etc…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks da-AL. To extend this idea, I also believe it’s a southern and rural situation too. I always think, if I were up North or in a metropolitan that valued a transit system, or even in another country with a bullet train, lol then this might not be problematic at all. But who knows.

      Also, thanks for that advice! I’ve actually begun listening to Gregg Braden lectures and a few LOA YouTube videos to keep my mind lifted in positivity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. unfortunately we’re in same boat here in Los Angeles too – horrendous transit system…

        also, remember that fiction is great too – somehow I think a lot of people focus on non-fiction, thinking that it’s somehow ‘worthy-er’ – but fiction also has much to teach us 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Where I come from, the traffic is just horrible. I would watch my dad commute to and fro daily for years (uptill now). Sometimes you could spend atleast two hours driving in the morning and at night its even worse. I’m just hoping to not have such a commute

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I cannot imagine. To me that seems almost worse. You’ve been in traffic for two hours and gotten a few miles, while I’ve been driving for two hours and traveled to another city lol Either is bad, I suppose.


  12. I live in New York which is a Mass Transit town. The bus and subway or walking get me where I need to go. However I can relate to your driving odyssey in terms of commuting for classes. Back when I was pursuing my B.A. in English at Marymount Manhattan College I often had to take classes at nights and on weekends. Since I worked I took the train to school and on the weekends I would drive because I was able to find a cheap parking lot. It was not a far or long drive provided the Long Island Expressway or the 59th Street Bridge did not turn itself into a giant parking lot!! Of course back in those days I was a lot younger and even if I did some long distance driving it did not bother me. Now of course with my poor eyesight my driving days are long over and I’m happy to be a passenger in a train, bus or if needed a taxi.

    As I read your post this song from the musical Rent came to mind. Also the fact that the playwright Jonathan Larson died right before opening night so he never got to experience the success of his play.

    Life is precious. Frustration, tiredness, exhaustion and jobs that compete with your family life are telling you something. I’m experiencing similar feelings and emotions in my current place of employment. I’m weighing the pros and cons of retirement. Everything inside me plus my body is really tired from climbing subway stairs which has become difficult due to arthritis. My soul is crying out for retirement because I want my health to improve, to spend more time with my brother Stephen and perhaps do some type of work that is more meaningful and rewarding. God and/or the Universe speaks to you in different ways.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Our youth propels us to do so many things that we wouldn’t even dare now!

      I did not know that about Jonathan Larson! That’s an amazing story and I’m thinking about the inspiration in it already.

      God and the Universe definitely do. Thanks for understanding where I’m coming from with this.

      Liked by 2 people

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