July 17, 2013
I used to work at an office in Sorrento Valley and my commute there and back from my house in North Park was the worst.
There are small windows where this drive only takes 20 minutes, but these windows are like magic portals that unexpectedly slam shut if you don’t plan your trip just right.
Some days leaving my office at 4:23 meant zipping right onto the freeway, but leaving at 4:33 meant sitting in a long line of cars, watching the stoplight change from red, to green, to red, as a parade of trains slowly inched across our path. 10 minutes could be the difference between a .5-hour and a 1.5-hour commute.
If you could just come and go as you pleased in the working world, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But there’s always that coworker who schedules a late afternoon meeting, or a coffee-on-pants morning disaster, or the expectation that you be physically present between the hours of 8:00 and 5:00, and you are at the mercy of the magic portal.
Like most San Diegans, for a long time I just accepted my commute as a fact of life, as miserable as it made me. For as much as we think about traffic here – listening for radio updates, strategizing the optimal combination of freeways and back roads, timing our departure around road disasters such as a gentle drizzle – we don’t really think about. We just consider it an unavoidable entity and suffer through it.
When I actually started to think about my commute and quantifying the impact it was having on my life, I quit my job.
I figured that I only get 24 hours in a day. I was spending at least 16 of those hours at sleep or at work on an average weekday, which left me with 8 hours of “free” time. If I wanted to get a workout in, make some meals, grocery shop, and shower on occasion, I was down to 6.
Given the strikingly few hours I had each day to pursue activities of my own choosing, the realization that I was spending 2 of them trapped in my car, traveling a total of 30 miles at a covered wagon pace, seemed ridiculous. Worse, this time was unpaid, and actually costing me money when I took into account gas and insurance. I was forced to ask myself if this particular job was worth it, and I decided that it wasn’t.
I have made a promise to myself that the commute for my next job will meet these requirements:
- The drive will be 20 minutes or less, no matter the time of day, OR
- The office will be reasonably walkable or bikeable, OR
- The office will be reachable by a means of public transit that allows me to do something more pleasant during my commute, such as read.
The commuting experience can significantly impact your quality of life and should be just as important a factor when considering a job opportunity as salary and benefits. Traffic may be a fact of life in San Diego, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. If the destination doesn’t justify the miserable journey, maybe it’s time to start looking.