Monday, November 17, 2014

... 8 years of this 6-hr daily commuting lifestyle choice...

Thanks to

4:30 am – alarm goes off
5:20ish am- headed to car to drive 42 miles to train parking lot **The 3-hr (123 mile) commute begins here.
6:15ish- parked in lot; walk ½ mile to train station
6:30- catch train in Fredericksburg, VA headed to Washington Union Station (DC)
8:05am- IF the train is on time, arrive at Washington Union Station
8:15am- catch university shuttle
8:30am- arrive on campus
8:35am- walk in my office

I’m an extreme commuter… slightly by choice but mostly by the nature of the position.  I’m a college professor and while that isn’t unique, I teach at the only university of its kind so I either live there (that for various reasons—cost, former marriage, etc. I couldn’t when I started) or I commute.  One can’t just drive into Washington, D.C. during rush hour. If I drive in, I would need to leave by 2am to arrive before traffic or at 8am to arrive on campus after 10:30am. That’s when there isn’t any sort of construction or traffic jam… and that is never the case.

Faculty members typically have 9-month contracts. This is my 8th year in the position and each and every summer I have chosen to teach a summer course or do some type of summer work on campus. I love my job and the only aspect of it that I don’t care for is the commute; however, I NEVER EVER let myself get down about it. Once you have it in your head that you can’t or don’t want to do something, it sticks. That’s just basic psychology. So when folks tell me I can’t do this forever, I smile; they have just empowered my stubborn side to keep at it. Whenever I have a slight fussy moment, I think about all that I get to do and see because of the commute (e.g. daily sunrises; deer running by the train; naps on the train; completing “homework” on the train so that when I’m home I am home; journaling; reading, sipping coffee and gazing out the window, etc.)  For the most part, I actually enjoy my commute. I’m not driving much and when I do there is very little traffic on the road.
Cherry Blossoms

Washington Monument
Most afternoons, I really try to catch the 3:05pm shuttle so that I can catch the 3:30 train. If there is one tiny hiccup (a colleague comes in to chat; a last minute email request; a student who missed office hours and has a question, etc.), the entire schedule to thrown off. One semester I taught until 5pm and didn’t get home until 9pm on teaching days (typically Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays). Usually, I’m home by 7pm.

Commuter trains have their own culture. I won’t necessarily get into that but I will say that since I’ve been doing this for 8 years, I recognize those who have been riding consistently for years. I used to get weird stares in the beginning but now that I’ve been around long enough if there are any comments, they’re related to the commute. 

I have destroyed many commuter bags until I found one that I just couldn’t destroy. Several years ago when I was at a conference at Disney World, I saw the Disney Nightmare Before Christmas Jack Lola Satchel and was completely in love. I had never spent THAT much money on a bag in my life. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have hesitated one bit. In fact, I haven’t used another commuter bag for work since I bought the Harveys bag. It is tough and it is beautiful!

A churchyard full of pumpkins in the fall
I always travel with an umbrella, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (if you’ve ever used a bathroom in a train station you’ll understand this is a necessity!), wet wipes, basic meds, multiple pens which is a no brainer for me, ziplock bags, books, goodness… what is NOT in my bag?!?
In the winter, I mostly commute in Docs. They’re comfortable and water resistant (and snow resistant!). I usually bring shoes to change into in my office but some days I just leave on the Docs *shrug*.

Even in the heat of Virginia summers, I always have a jacket because the train AC will freeze ya.

It’s all about perspective. Cost to commute is approximately $500 a month with train tickets and gas. If I lived in DC, my mortgage and daily living costs would be MUCH higher. I can come up with a thousand little ways to rationalize all of this. The fact is, it's a hard commute but because I have chosen this lifestyle I'm *okay* with it.

Commuter zombies making way to cars
 All and all, I like my small town and the access to Richmond, Virginia but I also like my job. It's better to find joy in aspects of the daily journey than to complain, which would only make life harder.


  1. This brings back memories when I used to take the train from my parent's house to work/school downtown. I miss the commute and just like you, I got used to the regulars. Now, with my kid, it makes more sense to drive. Buses are horrible in Montreal! Those are some nice photos

    1. Thanks! The commuter rail is convenient for work but I wish we had better public transportation where I live. It would be nice to go to dinner and have drinks without worrying about driving.

  2. Lovely read. I live in NYC and always thought about doing what you out in the country, commuting 3 hours to the city. With the money I make now, I could afford to live in a house somewhere...not in a tiny one-bedroom.

  3. I totally understand your choices. :) That is really common in my home country too. There is the metropolitan area but the commute is so slow and there is so many people, it can take an hour and a half to get to work. If one has a car or is okay riding a long distance train, one can live in another town (100-150 kilometers away), and have shorter trip to work (when it comes to the time spent). Then, the living costs are about 1/3 of the costs in the capital.

    p.s. I love those photos of this post, are they from your work route? ^_^

    1. My colleagues choke when I say my mortgage payment because it's half or a third of theirs but it comes with the commute. It isn't so much the cost as I don't want to live in a congested suburbia outside of the city which I know I couldn't afford to live in anything but a tiny apartment.

      I guess I should have pointed out that all the pictures were taken from the train except that last one where I was walking to my car.

  4. Respect. That university sounds great, and you obviously have a deep commitment to it. Plus that bag really is awesome.

    1. I absolutely do love my university, our students, and my colleagues. They make it all worth it.

      I'm still obsessed with that bag :D

  5. Nightmare Before Christmas Bag!

    If I had a job that started that early I would probably be getting up at a similarly early time. On the coast we have one big city, Sydney and you have to commute there, living there is super expensive, the most expensive city in Australia, I think. Maybe one day.

    Well, there is also Newcastle but that sucks to get to if you don't drive!

    1. In graduate school, I actually lived in the District but it was difficult to *get out* of the city to visit friends and family. I was raised in the country and I think I must have some grass and trees in my blood... and not the strategic tree every 6 ft either. I feel like I can pretty much do anything *if* I want to.

    2. I am definitely torn but there are lots of parts of the city that have even more parks than the suburbs, not to mention trees planted up and down all the streets!

    3. Laura, I absolutely agree. I love walking in Hollywood Cemetery and it very much is an amazing *park* within the city. I think Central Park in NYC is a great example. Around here the suburbs are dreadful... Strip malls would have to be considered their public parks. I'm fortunate that where I live, a town that is about 7 sq miles within a rural county, wants to keep the rural feel.