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Drive time is my time

More of us are content with our commutes

Susan Reimer

6:00 AM EDT, October 14, 2013

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I commute an hour each way to this job, and I honestly don't mind.

My car is the cocoon where I can be alone with my thoughts or where I can listen to an audio book. I am partial to English mysteries because they are always stopping at a cozy pub for a pint, and that just sounds so appealing. And I don't even drink beer.

My husband's commute is even longer — he is what they call a "mega-commuter" — but he doesn't mind, either. He listens to sports or sports talk shows on his Sirius satellite radio, and the time flies.

According to a recent column in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger, who often writes about work/life issues, we are among an increasing number of people who do not resent their daily commutes to work — because we have been able to employ new technologies to make the trip feel productive or simply pleasant.

The average commute, Ms. Shellenbarger writes, remains at about 25 minutes, but the number of workers who travel more than an hour each way rose to 11.1 million in 2012, up 300,000 from 2010.

More than 80 percent of us travel alone in a car, according to the U.S. Census, but there are plenty of workers who travel by bus, subway, train or ferry and who report that their commutes are pretty productive, too.

She goes on to profile a half-dozen commuters and how they have customized their commute, from the woman who avoids chatting with other passengers so she can read or think, to the ferry boat commuter who describes his ride as "an eight-minute vacation every day."

In Baltimore, the average one-way commute is 30 minutes, but nearly 15 percent of the state's workers reported a daily commute of more than 60 minutes, second only to New York's 16.2 percent.

Let's give a big shout-out to technology, which allows us to do everything from paying bills to leaning French during our commutes. But there is something else at work here, too, I think.

Human beings are resourceful, and we like our pleasures. If we are going to spent an average of 21.6 days in the car each year getting to and from work, we will find a way not to hate every minute of it because were are not disposed to spend so much time unhappy. This might be why cars are so much more luxurious than they are fuel efficient.

We like control, too. And if we can script our commutes in a way that makes them predictable, we will do that. That's why unexpected traffic jams drive us nuts. (In big cities, Ms. Shellenbarger writes, drivers waste 52 hours a year stuck in traffic.)

I am sure this sounds loopy, but we need to find ways not to hate what we are required to do. We need to find a way not to be miserable doing what we can't get out of doing. I haven't found a way to apply that to grocery shopping yet, but I am working on it.

Coincidentally, the Wall Street Journal also wrote last week about the lunch hour and how important it is in restoring the psychological, social and material reserves that work drains from us.

Most of us eat at our desks while working — or perhaps shopping on-line — but we should be getting out of the office, connecting to nature or lunching with colleagues and avoiding workplace talk. But hardly any of us do. At best, we run errands, a task that is not at all uplifting.

It may seem odd that we have taken back the commute, but we haven't taken back the lunch hour. My guess is that our commutes are a relatively private matter, but it is harder to leave the office for lunch when no one at the desks around you is doing so.

In either case, it is sand through the hourglass.

Susan Reimer's column appear on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com,