commuting

Exit 174. I enjoy traveling by train.

My twenty-five-mile commute to work runs parallel to a railroad track, used both by freight trans and an Amtrak route (for my readers outside the USA, that means a passenger train) that runs twice per day in each direction.  A few miles down the highway, I cross the track, and sometimes, if the timing works out just right, I can see the Amtrak train, and I end up following it for about another 15 miles until my exit.  Then, shortly after my exit, I cross under the railroad track again, and if the timing is still just right, I see the train one last time above me.  Last Thursday, I saw the train following me along my drive, but by the time I got to the underpass, I had gotten stuck waiting at a stop sign, and the train had already passed.

I am discovering more and more that I enjoy traveling by train.  I’ve often used BART, the regional electric commuter trains in and around San Francisco and Oakland, to get to Giants games or other occasional events in San Francisco for which I don’t want to deal with traffic or finding an overpriced place to park.  I went to a concert in the city a few weeks ago, and I took BART and then connected to a local bus, and I didn’t even miss the bus or get on the wrong bus or anything like that.  Me 1, San Francisco 0.  The local light rail in Sacramento is my usual method of transportation to get to Kings games when I don’t have to pick up someone who doesn’t have a way to get to games or won’t use public transportation.  I have also used light rail and buses many times to get home from long one-way bike rides.  And in June, I rode Amtrak for the first time, going to visit my family.

I think I would use public transportation more often, except that it usually does not go where I’m going when I need to be there.  When I say this to many people, they proceed to criticize the public transportation system in this region compared to others, or public transportation in the USA compared to other countries.  But this is not the issue.  The issue is that my commute is not along a common commuting corridor.  It is theoretically possible for me to get to work using three buses, run by three different agencies that do not issue transfers, with inconvenient layovers in between.  I could also just do the long bus route, getting to and from the stops by bike instead of two other buses.  However, that would still be about three and a half miles on my bike each way, which I do not like to do in work clothes or without being able to shower afterward, especially on hot days.  (I am thinking, however, that it might be useful to try this, just to see how it works.  I could be sure to arrive early enough to clean up a little and/or change clothes before the students arrive.  Even if this does not become my daily commute, this may come in handy in a pinch if I am ever without a car for any reason.)  As for using public transportation for trips that are not work, my social life usually involves doing things late at night, leaving me with no way to get home on public transportation.  Either that, or I am rushing from one place to another and do not have time to wait for a bus or train.

I’ve already reserved my ticket on Amtrak to visit my family for Christmas.  It’s longer and more expensive than driving, but to me, not unreasonably so.  And I’ve come to realize that maybe I don’t like driving as much as I thought I did, or as much as I used to.  As a roadgeek, driving is fun.  But sometimes it’s also fun to just sit back and stare out the window at the scenery going by.  And I’m definitely looking forward to doing that on the way home for Christmas.  It’ll be dark on the way back; the city where my parents live only gets one train per day in each direction, and the one taking me home leaves around 6:30pm, long after sunset in December.  But I’ll be bringing my Christmas presents home, so I’ll probably have some new movies to watch on my laptop for when it’s too dark to see outside.

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Exit 148. Not completely isolated yet.

Sometimes I feel like there is nothing left for me here.

I guess that’s an unnecessarily dramatic way of making this point.  What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a lot of connections left here in the specific suburban community where I currently live.  I didn’t grow up here; I moved here in 2006, at age 29.  So I don’t have anyone in the area whom I’ve known since childhood, as people who grew up here usually do.  At one time, I worked near my house, and I attended church just a couple miles away.  These were the job I left in 2014 and the church I left in 2015, respectively.  At this point in my life, work is a half hour drive in one direction and most of my social life happens a half hour drive in the opposite direction.  The only thing left for me here is my house, and sometimes I wonder if I really belong here anymore.  But I have compelling reasons why moving is not the best idea right now either.

Last night, I went to a certain one-step-up-from-fast-food chain restaurant, prompted by a coupon, good for two days only, which I received from their email list.  Unsurprisingly, when I got there, I noticed that many other people seemed to have the same idea, as the line was much longer than I have ever seen it.  I went in to brave the line anyway, though; I had no other plans the rest of the evening.

About a minute after I got there, I heard someone calling my name.  I turned around and saw one of my favorite people, an old friend from many years ago, with two of her children.  This was someone I met at church a few months after I moved here, when she was still a teenager (so she is in her late 20s now).  She was one of my closer friends for a couple years, but eventually she met her future husband and found another church, right around the same time if I remember right.  We just didn’t cross paths much after that, although we have been connected on social media the whole time.  It had been a couple years since I had run into her in person, though, and it was good to catch up.

I don’t have much of a social life that takes place in my immediate geographical area.  This is true.  But I’m not completely isolated yet.  I still know people nearby.  And I occasionally run into them around town.  Most of the people I used to know here who are still here have grown up, getting married and raising children.  (I’m not necessarily saying that I haven’t grown up because I don’t have children; the point here is that my local friends from a decade ago have grown up in a different way than I have.)  And for those of you who fit this description, even if most of our contact is through Facebook likes and I only see you once every two years when we happen to be grocery shopping at the same time, thank you for staying in contact with me.  I appreciate it.

Exit 52. Worrying about it too much just makes me sad and frustrated.

This is my 52nd post on this blog, and the implications of that are clear.  This blog is a weekly, and there are 52 weeks in a year, so this means that it has been a year since I started this blog.  If you want to get really technical, next week would be a closer approximation of the anniversary of the first post, since the first one was numbered 1 instead of 0.  And this is actually my 53rd post; a few days before the post I later renamed to Exit 1, I posted a short introductory article basically saying that this blog wasn’t going to have a topic or a format.  But even so, this is the 52nd week that I have written in this blog.  This means that the events that inspired the first few posts, including my process of job searching, the Isla Vista massacre, and my rediscovery of a certain early-90s teen pop quintet, happened almost a year ago now.

Time seems to pass faster and faster as I get older.  It is hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for a year already.  When I was in elementary school in the 1980s, the concept of “the year 2000” involved connotations of some exotic future date with robots and flying cars.  Now the year 2000 is far enough in the past to bring about feelings of nostalgia.  Kids born in 2000 are in high school already.

I’ve always found it fascinating how society’s collective perception of the future has changed over the years.  Among a growing awareness of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and sustainability issues, the optimistic Jetsons world of robot housekeepers and flying cars for everyone has given way to the dark post-apocalyptic dystopias of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.  And as usual, those with strong opinions on things have strong opinions on this issue, and neither side sees the whole story.  On one side, you have those who believe that the way to prevent worldwide catastrophe and destruction is more government regulation, telling people what they can and can’t do.  They fail to see that people like their freedom, especially in many parts of the US, and more importantly, they fail to see how their sense of control can stifle innovation, which may bring creative solutions someday to some of this generation’s problems.

On the other side, you have the skeptics, the deniers, those who read studies saying that the science is flawed and that, for example, all of our energy crises would be solved if only the government would let us drill for more oil in more places.  The problem here is that, even if you allow that climate data is within the bounds of what is caused by natural variability, even if you make the most optimistic projections about how much petroleum is left on Earth, this view is still missing some key realities.  Even if natural variations in climate are causing the drought in California and the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, it is still happening.  This head-in-the-sand mentality doesn’t do anything about what is actually happening right now, regardless of the cause..  Even if there is a lot more petroleum lying under protected wildlife habitat waiting to be drilled, Earth is not infinite, and new petroleum is not being created on anything near the time scale required to replenish what is being used today.  We may run out in 20 years, we may run out in 300 years, but we will run out someday.  And of course on both sides of the issue, you have hypocrites who only care about the image they give to the world rather than how their lifestyle actually contributes to the problem.  But that’s another story.

I feel a bit conflicted about my own lifestyle at times.  I drive a lot, especially since starting my new job last year.  My social life is spread across three counties, and my job is in a fourth county that is not in the same direction as the other three.  I’ve also often questioned my decision to settle in the suburbs, especially now that my job is not in my neighborhood.  For seven years I rode my bike to work if it wasn’t raining, but now work is 25 miles away.  Moving near work would solve that problem while also creating other problems.  My work is in a much smaller community, the kind of place where it is hard to fit in being a single guy who doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t have a family of his own.  But the more sustainable kind of places where adult singles tend to congregate also would be difficult places for me to fit in (not to mention farther from work).  Those neighborhoods tend to attract noisy people who are looking for night life and places to party.  Believe me, I’m not trying here to have a sense of superiority over people in small towns or people in urban neighborhoods with night life.  There are things I love about small towns, and there are things I love about vibrant new urban areas, and some of my favorite people live in each of those kinds of places.  I just don’t think either kind of place is going to suit me any better than the suburbs, especially considering the specifics of where I am right now.

There are things I can do, though.  I asked at the beginning of the year if any coworkers commute from the same direction that I’m coming from; there were only two, and both of them have different enough schedules to make a carpool impractical.  Maybe next year, now that I’m settled, if no new people coming from my direction join the staff at my school, I can even ask if anyone from the nearby high school or any of the nearby elementary schools commutes from my direction.  And when it comes time to replace this car, I’m definitely going to look into hybrids and other fuel-efficient options.  But for now, I’m doing the best I can.  And while it is important to be aware of the greater consequences of my actions and my lifestyle, worrying about it too much just makes me sad and frustrated.