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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

Selfie in commute mask and bike helmet
My new commute is a little on the apocalyptic side.

The New Commute

Two years ago today, I got word that my office was moving to another city about 20 kilometers away, and that I would have to saddle up for a big kid commute. Well, two months ago, that day finally came. This is how it’s going.

Two years ago, I didn’t anticipate this move coinciding with a global pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, nor the pending collapse of US democracy. While I am not happy about my commute increasing by 19 kilometers, given the situation, I feel incredibly lucky to have a job right now. Unlike the majority of people in my field, however, I don’t have the option to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been commuting to the new office since April.

Taking public transit during a pandemic isn’t the safest option. While our exceptional county bus service (I mean this sincerely) does require face coverings and leaving empty rows between passengers, it’s still dangerous to be in an enclosed space with other passengers. I assume the majority of these people are essential workers like me, who interact with lots of other people throughout the day. To minimize my exposure, my buddy Ivan and I have been carpooling together like two masked marauders. On days we can’t carpool, I split my commute between bus and bike.

While the carpool situation violates my idealist anti-car sensibilities, it has provided me with some perspective. I know first hand how commuting by car to work compares to a split bike/bus commute.

The car commute is faster, but only slightly. It takes about 28 minutes to get to the time clock from the time I walk out of my front door. The bike/bus commute isn’t as strait forward, but generally takes about 35 minutes under ideal conditions. I’ll go into this in more detail in a minute.

The conversation is great durring the car commute, but catching a cat nap on the bus is also pretty great. I also really like the exercise in the morning. The distance and terrain aren’t exactly rigorous, but nothing gets you into work mode like riding to work in the morning. This was the norm for me for the past 8 years, so the car commute is a bit of an adjustment.

The bike/bus commute translates to a fixed 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift (or an optional 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift), while the car commute is an 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift. This is due to the fact that I’m sharing the commute with someone else. I’m a morning person, so I do prefer the earlier schedule. I could probably talk Ivan into working a 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift if I tried.

As for cost, I really don’t know which is cheaper. My wife manages the car and the finances in our household, and I don’t know what gas costs these days. The fare for my intercity bus rout is $2.25 per trip, which translates to $4.50 per day. I assume that is higher than what gas would cost to drive this distance, but cars have other non-trivial expenses in addition to fuel. Cars also ruin everything, so fuck them.

The real fly in the ointment—the monkey in the wrench, is the trip home on the bike/bus commute. Allow me to explain.

My bus is scheduled to depart a major hub 1½ kilometers from my house at 6:59 every morning. The bus drops me off at the first stop in the town where I work at about 7:10. I then bike 7 kilometers to my office and clock in1 by 7:30. If I take a 30 minute lunch, I need to clock out at 4 p.m. so I don’t accrue overtime.

The bus I take home arrives at the last stop in town (the first stop where I get off in the morning) at 4:45 p.m. It only takes me 20 minutes to ride 7 kilometers, so I can either wait at the bus stop in the sweltering heat for 25 minutes, or I can catch the bus right in front of my office at 4:10 p.m., and sit in an air-conditioned bus instead. Either way, I’m taking the same exact bus and getting home 1 hour after I clock out.

In practice, these times don’t always work out this clean. Busses can be late, lunch usually runs a little long (I like to go to the park for lunch), and shit in general just happens. Still, this isn’t too bad of a situation given the nature of bus economics.

I could minimize the amount of time I spend commuting every year by taking a more leisurely lunch and biking to the last bus stop in the afternoon, rather than catching the first stop in front of my office, but this wouldn’t increase the time I have at home. It’s pretty much a draw.

I understand that my commute is quick and easy compared to most people in my area. Please realize, though, that I made a lot of sacrifices and spent many years building relationships to create an opportunity for myself to work close to home. The prospect of starting over is a disappointing one.

  1. Yes, I believe I probably am the only Sr. Full Stack Web Developer on the planet who punches a time clock. While I don’t have a strictly regulated start time, I do like to get my 8 hours every day so I can pay the bills. When you rely on bus service, timing is everything↩︎