Driving and Biking in the Big City

Commuter’s black box

with 2 comments

rear view (2)It’s a bit like an airplane’s black box recording of the last minutes before a crash to watch my text messages from this morning’s commute. I don’t actually start to communicate until 8:05 a.m., five minutes after I’m expected at work.

“Bumper to bumper”  is the attention-getting  heading.  As a former headline writer, I pride myself on my succinct and action-packed subject lines, getting folks to open an email.  So, this was just a tease. I didn’t really mean much by it.  The body of this first message simply says. “Slow going today. I’m still 30 minutes away.”

It’s interesting that — like the deep voiced, soothing tones of a pilot — I’m too calm to notice I’m in trouble. When I left home, it had been raining so I’m not surprised I’m running late. But little did I know that I was heading for a new record in longest commutes of my life.

I’ve been in the car one hour by the time I sent my first email to the office and was not experiencing any true pain because I am peacefully listening to Adriana Trigiani’s “Shoemaker’s Wife” and thinking about the three work meetings I have this day. The novel hasn’t yet captured my full attention so it’s perfect for a Monday commute when I really need to get my mind around all the tasks to accomplish in this week.

My co-workers respond to my traffic note with sympathy and kindness, and I’m not alone for the few minutes we connect. Someone mentions a nasty wreck, but I’m still  not concerned because it’s not in my path and I’m thinking I’ve had a typical rain delay.  I dash off a couple of notes to myself about some tasks to complete that day and some ideas in general for the good of the order.

Then, I’m back to my book on tape. I rewind my novel and start again to try to get the characters straight.

At 8:30 a.m. various team members start to mention the work that’s piling up. I chime in with other  stuff I know about — just like I’m going to be there to help handle it. I’m never so late as 9 a.m. and my plan is to hit the ground running.  But, when I hit Loop 610 and time is slipping away, I finally start to worry and get cranky.

Unfortunately, I’m a fast lane person so I’m pinned in and crawling. Further, I like to switch to the far right lane beyond 610 and finally notice that’s going to take some aggressive lane changing to get over. In Houston, a blinker can be a sign of weakness when everyone is in high gear. But, in terrible traffic, folks can face the inevitable and defer, especially if you appear decisive and respectful. I gradually move all the way over but still do not get any relief. U.S. 59 has become a parking lot.

It’s in the next couple of miles that I make my big mistake. When there’s a lot of traffic, it’s faster if I take the downtown exit and brazenly come straight up Fannin to the medical center, syncing my speed to match the four miles or so of redlights. But, if traffic is zipping along, my favorite is to keep going on U.S. 59 and take the Fannin exit later. Then, I’m only 1.3 miles from work.

Today, I innocently take the downtown exit — thinking it’s less of a gamble — and miss my chance for a reprieve on the path that is my favorite but not my usual.

“I hope I’m there for our 9:30 a.m. meeting,” I say in my next email, ambitiously claiming to be at Minute Maid.

But I’m not truly there yet. My balloon still hasn’t landed. But, just around the corner, it does. I’m creeping and finally notice that all the feeder lanes are equally backed up, dumping into downtown together where a firetruck has my usual path fully blocked. Further, all the exiting lanes are merging into this one pitiful right turn lane. I turn my head to the left and see 59 start to speed up, just out of my reach. I’ve missed my chance.

“You are welcome to meet without me,” I text at 9:20 a.m., referring to my 9:30 a.m. meeting. And I watch the passenger get out of the car in front of me and start walking. I’m mocked by his progress every step of the way as he walks out of sight while I’m still trying to merge.

It is 9:45 a.m. when I finally make it to work. I’ve been in the car since 7 a.m.  I’ve been two hours and 45  minutes in the car — my longest commute ever. Luckily, I didn’t notice for the first hour or it would be even more painful. I make it to my 10 a.m., just barely, and am a step behind all day. I wonder about starting a new blog — this time something about sitting on a beach and watching the waves roll in.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Commuter’s black box. […]

  2. Feel like I was in the car with you.

    Janet Wallace

    December 11, 2012 at 4:34 am

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