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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Error: Does Not Commute

Getting to work isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be.

I drive to the office, and my commute takes just about twenty minutes from door to door. Or rather, it used to. For three years, barring the occasional traffic snafu or detour, I’d hop in the car, spend my third of an hour warbling along with the tunes on the CD player, and arrive at my parking area. Day in, day out, same old commute. Then one day, I thought, ‘You know, I bet there’s a faster way.

That was my first mistake.

Not that I was wrong, mind you. There was a faster way. Lots of them, as it turns out, which was no real surprise. I have the navigational instincts of a crack-addled mole rat, so when I’m told or shown a route that gets me from Point A to Point B, then that’s how I get there. I don’t ask questions, I don’t cut corners, and I sure as hell don’t take any detours. If the directions tell me to turn left six times consecutively and cross the same intersection on Main Street over and over, then that’s just how it is. If I eventually get where I’m going, then the experiment is a success. Period.

“Luckily, there’s more than one way to skin a Cadillac.”

So, one day I decided to venture forth on a new path to the office. I knew the intervening area well enough by that time that I couldn’t get ‘lost’, per se, but that doesn’t mean I knew what the hell I was doing. As usual. The first ‘shortcut’ was an unmitigated disaster. I took a little side street to cut off a right angle, got funneled onto a one-way street going the opposite direction, and lost ten minutes trying to get back to my usual route. Total driving time to work: 35 minutes.

The next day, I cruised past that little snafu waiting to happen, and took the next side street. Boston can be a tricky town to navigate, but if there’s one rule around here, it’s that they never put two one-way streets going the same way in a row. You can always go a little further and loop back the way you came. So I made the next turn.

It also funneled me into a one-way street. Going the wrong way. And I couldn’t loop back and go the way I came. At least I remembered how to get back to my usual route from the previous day’s adventure. As I cursed the city planners, wishing for large cloverleaf onramps to be shoved firmly up their asses, my total driving time to work was: 25 minutes.

I took a step back and reassessed my plans. Clearly, I wasn’t meant to cut off the angle I’d been trying to shave. There were a couple more side streets I could have tried, but what were the chances those would work out? Zero. Those were all one-ways the wrong way, too, or led to dead end cul-de-sacs or tar pits or tiger cages or something. No, thanks. If I was going to cut time off the commute, I’d have to do it elsewhere.

So I looked closer to home. Before I got into the meat of the route with that big right angle, I traveled on a couple of busy roads near my house. What if I could zigzag a shortcut through the back streets there? Surely, that would save me a couple of minutes. And that’s two more minutes I could be sleeping every morning. I had to try.

First, I veered into a little alleyway off the main road, knowing there was a street parallel to my route that wasn’t nearly as busy. What I failed to realize is that it’s less busy because there are stop lights every nine feet or so on that road, and they’re always red. Always. Even when they’re green, if they see you coming, they slam over to red. They don’t even bother with yellow; they just say, ‘Aha, drivers hoping to get by! No green for you! and it’s *bzzzzzzt*, right to crimson. Sometimes, I swear they even blink a little, just to mock you. I tried for a week to beat the lights, but my best driving time to work was: 28 minutes.

Luckily, there’s more than one way to skin a Cadillac. All sorts of other little alleys and thruways veered off that main street. One of them had to take me somewhere useful — and faster. Right? Well, here’s the tally:

Second turn: Alleyway dumping into another one-way street going the wrong way. Can’t somebody outlaw these fricking things? Total driving time: 31 minutes.

Third turn: Driveway into Dunkin Donuts parking lot. Thought there’d be a way out the back; there wasn’t. Total driving time: 26 minutes. But the crullers were delicious.

Fourth turn: Street back to stop light hell. One light turned red, then yellow, then immediately back to red. I took a right turn to get away from the nightmare. Onto another one-way street. Kill me now. Total driving time: 38 minutes.

Fifth turn: Some guy’s driveway. He didn’t seem too happy to see me, and wouldn’t let me drive through his back yard to the next street. Maybe I should have saved him a cruller. Total driving time: 25 minutes.

Sixth turn: The turn I take on my usual route. Le sigh.

Just this week, I turned to my last resort. Between my parking area — just a street with several open spaces, actually — and the main part of the route, there’s a bit of a hike on a street with two stop signs. Maybe I could shortcut past those — or one of them. Or just start blowing through one to save a few seconds. I’d take just about anything at this point.

After careful study of this part of the drive, I targeted one little side street that looked promising. It pointed the way I wanted to go, and as far as I could see down it, there were no stop signs, snarky lights or one way pointers to screw me. Yesterday, I took the plunge and ventured into the unknown.

For a block, it was smooth sailing. Two blocks, no problem. Three blocks, fine. And I was making super time. At the end of the fourth block was the turn onto the street where I parked. I had victory in sight when I glanced to my left, at the house at the end of the block. On the sidewalk there was an older woman, probably in her fifties, and quite heavy. She was shoveling the snow from the night before off her walk, wearing just a too-revealing pair of hip-hugging sweatpants and a thin white T-shirt. On the shirt, emblazoned across her ample, lumpy chest were the words:

Got Milk?

Clearly, I can never travel on that street again. If that’s what the lady wears in wintertime, god only knows what she’s parading around in come summer. Also, I won’t be drinking any milk for the next couple of weeks, thanks just the same. And who knows how long it took me to get to work that day; I drove around in circles for a good ten minutes before I felt stable enough to park.

Circles on the next block over, mind you. No way did I need to see Ms. Shovelcrack and her milky mammaries again. Not then. Not ever.

Still, all was not lost. Today, I took my usual route, like I always do, onto the busy street, through the right angle, past the stop signs and onto my parking street. And then I parked — four spots earlier than I usually park. Total driving time: 19 minutes, 50 seconds.

Sure, that’s an extra minute or two added onto my walk into the office. But it’s not driving time, now, is it? Sometimes the small victories are all we have, and I’m more than happy to take this one. I’ll worry about shaving seconds off my walking commute some other time. Or not at all, if I’ve learned my lesson. Slow ‘n’ steady wins the race, right?

Permalink  |  2 Comments

2 Responses to “Error: Does Not Commute”

  1. When I lived near Philadelphia, I was the same way. I’d always try to find shortcuts, but they never worked out. It seems like where I lived was shortcut-prone– and we didn’t have as many Dunkin’ Donuts either.

  2. Charlie says:

    Perhaps, Rambler.

    But the way some of my jaunts end up, I think I’d much rather have something substantial like a nice cheesesteak, as opposed to breakfast fare. Sometimes, I start out for work in the morning and don’t get anywhere useful till after dark.

    I should really start packing lunch and dinner for the drive to work.

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