Joys of the three-hour commute – honest

After working close to home, he's glad to be out on the road again.

Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE
TRAFFIC: Drivers speed along the Los Angeles freeways after work.

Boy, I'm glad to be commuting again.

I'm not being sarcastic. I used to spend three hours a day driving to work and back, and when I got a job six blocks from home, everyone wanted me to celebrate as if I had been given a get-out-of-jail-free card. Only I didn't feel released – I felt trapped, hemmed in by the doorbell and the telephone, the TV, and the Internet.

Back in the car again, I have time to think more freely, and enjoy the tan-corduroy-colored corn stubble that characterizes central Iowa in winter.

When I scan the horizon, I enter a state close to dreaming. I know where the next car is and how fast I'm going, conditioned by decades of driving. But I'm in a very pleasant, think-what-I-want-to-think state. And best of all, I have no passengers to pull me back from my visual banquet or the reflective riffs that go along with it.

Of course, riding solo may seem environmentally gauche, and it can certainly be expensive!

For me to refuse to share this ride triggers a twinge of guilt, but not enough to post one of those commuter advertisements at the coffeehouse with tear-away tabs that list my phone number. That's because this is my one truly private place; it's even better than a locked bathroom door.

For me, the car during a commute is a potential zone of focus, of pure, unadulterated consciousness. It's the yoga-lover's mat.

I might even argue that my connection to the environment increases as I drive. Although the car seems to cut me off, boxing me inside glass and metal, it can be the closest I get to nature all day. I suspect that's true for millions of other commuters, even those who are truly urban. It was certainly true for me during the six years I commuted in Chicago, where I saw spring leaves grace the front of tenements, watched a red-tailed hawk pin its prey to the shoulder of the expressway, and gazed in wonder as fog rose off the Sears Tower.

Of course, the same nature-viewing dynamic is enhanced in Des Moines, Iowa, where the less-dense population means more flora and fauna.

A few days ago, as I reentered Des Moines after work, I began to count deer grazing on prairie grass along undeveloped greenbelts. Eleven were congregated in a single yard on the edge of the suburbs. I also saw that water had receded from a flooded river, leaving shards of ice. And there was a bald eagle perched in a sycamore tree beside the cloverleaf ramp.

Go ahead, tell me I'm nuts. I don't care. I'm happy to be out here in my car once again.

I like this ride.

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