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Missing the sweet sound of commuter silence during COVID quarantining

This may be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but among the many things I miss as a result of COVID quarantining (restaurants, gathering with friends, seeing the bottom half of people’s faces) my daily commute to work is tops.

Yes, you read that right: I miss my commute.

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Even though my office is only about 11 miles from home, with city traffic, construction zones and school children crossings, in the Before Times, it would normally take me about 45 minutes each day to get to work —and the same to get back home.

For those 45-minute stretches, I was alone in the climate-controlled car, listening to a podcast, or NPR, or singing along loudly with the satellite radio. I spent many car rides chatting it up with my best friend from high school, or my sister. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I had a standing phone date with my dad. (Hands-free, people! Don’t @ me.)

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Some mornings or afternoons on my commute, the only thing I listened to was the sweet sound of silence.

It was glorious.

For 90 minutes every day, I was neither mother nor worker — I was just me.

The car ride was where I decompressed on the way to work from a harried early morning of getting three children up out of bed, washed, fed, packed up, kissed, hugged and out the door. And it was where I de-stressed on the way back home after a long day of deadlines, meetings, emails, presentations, “constructive criticism” and office politics.

If being a working mother is an off-Broadway play, my commute gave me time to do a mental scene and setting change.

Or, if being a working mother is a five-course meal, my commute was a palate cleanser.

No, wait, this is better: If being a working mother is super-heroic, my commute was the phone booth where I changed identities, even though I looked to the outside world pretty much exactly the same.

Horrendous analogies aside, you get the picture. When I crossed the threshold of home or office every weekday, I had had sufficient time to transition my brain — to shift gears, if you will. (I swear that was the last one!)

I realize I’m in the minority. Most people I talk to, when discussing the unexpected upsides of this seemingly never-ending pandemic, cite losing a commute and gaining time back in their day as a major plus. In a study released in July called “The Future of Work: How the Pandemic Has Altered Expectations of Remote Work,” researchers found that a third of Americans said they’d work from home every day just to ditch their commutes forever.

I would get that more if we all weren’t starting our work days earlier and ending them later these days, but I suppose I understand in theory what they mean.

Commuting, for some, is hugely stressful. A Scientific American article once said that commuting puts “considerable stress on the human mind and body and on family relationships. … Each added travel minute correlates with an increase in health problems. Several studies have shown that long-distance commuters suffer from psychosomatic disorders at a much higher rate than people with short trips to work. Physical symptoms range from headaches and backaches to digestive problems and high blood pressure. Mental ills include sleep disturbances, fatigue and concentration problems. Commuters who drive have it especially hard — bad weather, traffic jams and accidents all cause stress.”

So, I get it why some people are happy to be done (at least temporarily) with the car rides.

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But for me, I find that the 10 steps it takes to get from my bed to my “office” in the morning, or the 35 steps it takes to get from my office to my kitchen in the evenings are not enough to End Scene!, cleanse my mental palette and emerge from the telephone booth caped, de-spectacled and ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But give me a car ride and the radio and, fine, I still won’t be leaping over any buildings, let’s be real; I’m five feet tall. But I’ll be a happier, more balanced me — ready to be just what the people on the other side of each leg of the commute need me to be.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Exelon. She and her husband have twin 10-year-old sons, an 8-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanikawhite@gmail.com. Her column appears monthly.

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