long line of cars

The traffic on the 101 was as horrible as ever. For no apparent reason, every lane of the freeway would speed up to 30 or 40, then come to a complete stop just as quickly. It took me 20 minutes to drive 2 3/4 miles.

I thought, "I don't know how people do this every day, twice a day. This is soul-crushing."


Forty-five Minutes Earlier

I was starting to lose my voice. We'd been recording for close to four and a half hours, and that's about all I can do before I run out of energy. I finished the chapter, and took a drink of water.

The director's voice came through the small speaker on the table next to me. "Do you want to keep going, or do you think it's time to call it a day?"

"I want to know what happens next," I said, "but I think I'm done. I usually hit the wall around four hours."

"We're doing 80 pages a day, which is really good. I think we can go ahead and call it."

I picked up my keys and my phone. An LED flashed on the cover, telling me I had a text message. It was from Anne: Do you want to meet me for early dinner on your way home?

I thumbed to the compose screen, and told her that I had just finished, and I could meet her in about 25 minutes.

"Yay!" She replied.

"I'll be back at 10 tomorrow," I said to Tony, the Director. "Have a good evening."

"Really great work today, Wil," he said.


I squinted my eyes against the bright San Fernando Valley sunlight when I walked out of the studio. It was in the mid-80s, and I could tell that it had been a beautiful day. When I started my car, Van Halen was playing on the radio. I reflexively began to rock out, but by the second verse of Running With The Devil, my voice reminded me that I'd been using it all day. I cleared my throat and changed the station to NPR, which I listened to in silence the rest of my drive.

The traffic sucked, and the majority of other drivers didn't do much to help, with their speeding up and slamming on of brakes and changing lanes without signalling. I took a deep breath, and did my best to just be patient. When I finally got to the restaurant, I was ready to punch Lenny in the back of the head.

I walked inside, and saw my wife, sitting in the corner of the patio. She smiled and waved to me.

"How was your day?" She said.

"It was good," I said. I took a drink of her lemonade. It felt great on my tired vocal cords.

"I realized something while sitting in that horrible traffic on my way here," I said.

"What's that?"

"I'm really lucky."

"You're lucky because you had to sit in traffic?"

"No, I'm lucky that I don't have to sit in traffic like this every day, twice a day, like so many other people. And all this week, I'm getting paid to read and perform a book I love. This is a good life."

The waitress came by, and I ordered a ginger lemonade of my own.

59 thoughts on “long line of cars”

  1. I can’t imagine having to sit in traffic every day. I’m from a small town, so the only time I ever had to sit in traffic was when I wanted to go to the mall. Life is good when you don’t feel like you’re wasting so much of your day just waiting. Because isn’t that all ‘traffic’ really is? Waiting? It’s waiting, and polluting the atmosphere. The less we have to do that, the better life really is!

  2. That sounds like a good end to a great day. I think anyone who gets to make a living doing what they love is very lucky indeed.

  3. I’m in the same boat as you SillyJaime. I live about 800km north of Vancouver and the city I’m in is, IMHO, just the right size. I’ve considered moving to Vancouver, or at least the GVA, once or twice; usually for better job opportunities or better access to entertainment (concerts, plays, etc). But the thought of spending half my day in the car going to and from work keeps me here.
    And thank you Wil for showing me the silver lining. I too am thankful.

  4. It’s amazing how things can be put into perspective, isn’t it? I think it speaks very highly about you that you can appreciate that… most people don’t seem to have the capacity for that sort of empathy these days.
    I’m glad you had a great day!

  5. Wil, as one who has to sit in traffic twice a day (Redondo Beach to Irvine on the 405) I truly appreciate your humility and appreciation of what people like myself have to endure.

  6. It is soul-crushing, at first. You kinda get used to it, though; I’ve done it for years, after a while I just went into auto-pilot mode, and spent that time with my mind mostly elsewhere.
    But I have to say that since our office moved to within a 30 minutes’ walk from home, I absolutely prefer the exercise to the frustration!
    Keep on enjoying your job, that makes up for a lot of things… :-)

  7. Glad I live in Indianapolis and not a large city in California, traffic rarely gets so bad here. I shall have to try this ginger lemonade, it sounds like the delicious inverse of ginger ale! ^_^

  8. Things like commuting are only as soul crushing as we allow them to be. Since most folks who commute that way don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy a book, podcasts and audio books are some of the best uses of time while stuck in traffic on the Commute From Hell. And if one reads fan fiction of whatever sort, there are also podfics available.

  9. When we lived back east, i wasted 90 minutes of my day, every workday for a decade My spouse at one point commuted twice the distance i did, though at least my job was on the way so we could carpool and have that timeto talk When we moved here we were very glad we could get a house near enough the Univ my spouse works at that he walks to work. I did temp work then and told them I’d only take jobs I could get to without a freeway. Never lacked for an assignment for the 3 years I temped. Cannot understand why anyone purposely chooses to live as far from the job centers as they do. Yes, you can get a bigger house: but the personal and environmental cots aren’t worth it. I much prefer to live smaller and closer.

  10. I hear you. I walk to work and walk or bus it home, and I always have. Every single time we go out of town around rush hour, my husband and I remind ourselves why one of our dealbreakers for living is either walkability of proximity to mass transit. It’s just not worth it to me.

  11. Yup, Sulien, I totally agree. Most of the time, I spend my 45-60 min commute up the 91 talking with my husband, catching up on the day. Sometimes he reads to me. Sometimes I catch up on audiobooks or podcasts I’ve missed. It’s a time to decompress, shake off the stress of work, and it is, quite often, one of the better parts of my day. It’s all about what you let it be. (not that the Friday afternoon traffic isn’t horrid).

  12. I recently changed jobs and was able to cut my daily commute by about 30 minutes. I could have cut it even more, but only by spending my entire commute on interstate highway and dealing with the type of traffic you’ve just described. I found an alternate route that’s about three miles and 10 minutes longer, but it’s all back country roads through the Appalachian foothills, and It’s. Worth. It.

  13. My husband and I talk for large chunks of his commute home most of the time; he also carpools with a buddy so they get to hang out together while they drive, or sometimes one drives while the other gets work done.
    There are ways to make even the suckiest situations livable, and sometimes even desirable.
    That said, empathy is good and we need more of it, so go, Wil!

  14. Regarding the way traffic behaved: “For no apparent reason, every lane of the freeway would speed up to 30 or 40, then come to a complete stop just as quickly”, that sounds like you were experiencing traffic waves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_wave). I have found that I am somewhat less likely to be frustrated by traffic “for no apparent reason” now that I am aware of traffic waves.

  15. It’s so soul-crushing. It eats away at my faith in humanity every time I get into the car. Watching people play with the lives of others, making poor or even downright dangerous decisions, over and over. It’s like most people think physics is their bitch. Sorry, you’re physics’ bitch, people. Stopping distance and signals, please! I don’t care if you speed, just so long as you’re not doing it on someone’s tail! Drives like that are mind-numbing and there’s no way to relax, with the way about half the population drives. I remember plenty of great days at work, but by the time I got home, I was terribly tense from the drive. I feel SO lucky now to have a round-trip of only 5 miles these days. I’m a much happier person.

  16. This…this is the life I want. Wil, I love your humanity and humility, and your ability to actually realize and understand how lucky you are. One of the good ones, you are. :)

  17. Here’s something to try — if you dare!
    When you know you’ll meet her or someone else at a location only a few miles away, see if you can take your bike to your morning destination, maybe even with a drop off. Then you can bike to your evening destination and chuck the bike in the back your ride’s car/truck/whatever so you don’t have to ride in the evening.
    I realize I’m revealing my east-coast, small town way of moving around.

  18. Could be worse. For a while, I worked for an auto auction place in Oceanside, as a driver; we would be dropped off at various locations in LA, Orange, and San Diego counties, and have to drive cars from there back to the auction house. (Protip: NEVER buy a Jaguar. When the Jag dealership in Irvine went bust, we had to drive the cars down to sell. Every single one had to be jump-started, and you had to put gas in with the engine idling, because you might not get it started again.)
    I drove through that traffic four or five times a day. It was okay when we did things like picking up last year’s Town Cars from the Lincoln-Mercury up in LA, because those generally had working AC, and you could get funny looks as you cruised through rush-hour traffic in your luxury car with Bat Out of Hell or some Type O Negative blaring from the speakers; but when it was, say, the five-year-old repossessed Trans Am with the dust in the vents and the passenger-side window that wouldn’t go down, not quite as much fun. (Especially since that last was from clear up by the Reagan Freeway, and I had to drive it all the way to frakking Oceanside…)

  19. You are very fortunate. You don’t have a job. I have a job, that i drive to everyday, deal with parents and kids at the school, deal with boss and co-workers and pray everyday that I hit the lottery so I don’t have to work and do something I love. You are LUCKY.

  20. I remember those drives when I lived in Sydney, so much stress and angst. Places like Australia and the U.S. are so spread out that you have little choice but to drive. Now I live in London and haven’t driven a car in years! The U.K. has a great train network which means you can pretty much get around to most places without needing a car.

  21. I work in central Frankfurt/Germany and (Car)Traffic is a b*tch here too. To avoid this I’m using my bike and the subway to travel to a Station near the general Area where I’m workingm, and drive the rest of the Way over Sidestreets with my bike. (Boring story so far, I know).
    The incredible Thing here is, that I’m one of the few persons doing so, which means I’m usually faster than everybody else in their Cars who are standing on the main traffic chokepoints, in Times where there is a Fair in Frankfurt I even drive on the streets between the standing/waiting cars beeing even faster.
    The trainsystem in Frankfurt is not great, but good enough to make it possible for everybody to get you where you need to be, even the remote areas have a Station that you can reach (in a relaxed way) with your Car and then take your train, still most collegues drive their cars into the Rushhour mayham willingly.
    As you said: “I don’t know how people do this every day, twice a day. This is soul-crushing.”

  22. Hey Wil,
    Can you give some seminars at GenCon and Dragon*Con (if you’re going to GenCon… you ARE going to GenCon, right??) about how one can get a life like yours?
    ‘Cause I think you’d have a lot of people showing up for something like that.
    Just sayin’. :)

  23. My commute is about 14 miles each way, but I take the bus so that even when the road is a parking lot it never bothers me. That just gives me more time to read, browse the Web, watch videos, listen to music, or whatever I need or want to do. I will never understand the people who drive themselves to work like that every day. I would not, could not, do that. And no, driving on “autopilot” is not a good thing. Even audiobooks and conversations with passengers are distractions. That’s how pileups happen, and I see them often out the bus window…
    If I were in a situation where public transportation were not feasible and work was not within reasonable walking or biking distance, I would either move or get a different job. I will not ever put myself in a position of having to commute in a regular passenger vehicle every day.

  24. Traffic waves make me more frustrated, not less, because even though they can be described by physics, they are NOT CAUSED by physics. They are caused by incompetent idiots who do everything in their power to cause traffic snarls: they refuse to allow others to merge smoothly, they are incapable of merging smoothly themselves, they have to rush to the very end of merging lanes and slam on their brakes while cutting people off, change lanes right in front of other vehicles in order to deliberately impede traffic, they rubberneck at everything, etc., etc. People, when you are behind the wheel you have one, and only one, responsibility: keep out of everybody else’s way. And you can’t do that by being excessively cautious, either: slowing or stopping in acceleration lanes makes it impossible to smoothly merge with traffic.
    Traffic waves don’t happen spontaneously for no reason at all. There is ALWAYS a precipitating factor, even if it’s tiny. Then they get amplified.

  25. My commute involves driving 2 miles to a train which takes 25 minutes to arrive in Chicago. On the way into work, there is just enough time to boot up my laptop to play a game of solitaire or read yesterday’s news in the local obsolete print media.
    On the way home there is just enough time to begin to be lulled to sleep before being jolted awake at the announcement of my stop. My walk to and from the train station to my place of work is 13 minutes. Enough time to get the blood flowing before sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours.
    I think I would trade my commute for Van Halen, head banging while driving and listening to Memories of Futurecast episodes anyday!
    FYI thank you for this blog and your work. I’ll always be a fan.

  26. I say you need to rest up your voice Mr. Wheaton and when relaxed, remember the RFB. I am ready to knock you my lobes whenever you get the time. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson.
    Until then, I will read through the backlog of posts. and as always, thanks for words and works.

  27. If Saltmine U didn’t have a vanpool program, I wouldn’t be able to work here. 38 miles each way from my place to the office; 45 minutes in the morning/90-120 minutes at night; and three clutches on my MINI in eight years, despite taking the vanpool most days.
    My stepdad used to be the district director of Caltrans, District 7 (LA & Ventura counties) — aka The Most Hated Man in LA. It wasn’t until he retired that I told people what he did for a living. There are many reasons LA’s freeways are screwed; poor drivers are only one of them. Sadly.

  28. Hi Wil,
    You are lucky for many reasons! My best friend Denny Joseph Hoff is lucky to be alive after falling from the grandville bridge in Vancouver on Wed night after the hockey celebrations. He has a broken neck, back, pelvis, collarbone, fractured skull, head trauma and a damaged liver from the fall. He is a wonderful man and I need him to be ok! Please say some prayers for his recovery as he may have to go into surgery soon. Thank you very much and i wish your family well!

  29. I was let go from my 9-5 commuter job back in October. It is utterly soul sucking. Seriously. I’m so glad that I’m pursuing my life as a singer, choral conductor, vocal coach and general n’ere-do-well. I don’t miss a minute of it.

  30. Dude, don’t you live in Pasadena? What are you doing taking the 101 out of Hollywood? Los Feliz into Glendale, then up to the 134 or over to the 2 and up, yada yada yada. Or Cahuenga to Barham(though that gets packed up when everyone leaves the studios… which would not help you at all, in any way. Hmm).
    I also like taking almost any of the east-west streets east out of Hollywood to Alvarado, then up that to the 2.
    I used to have an almost pathological aversion to any freeway that passed through downtown, but that’s mostly turned into staying away from the 101 except during particularly low-traffic times of day and never ever ever taking the 5 through Norwalk.

  31. My husband used to drive about 45 minutes each way in Toronto to get to his job – he used the same words – soul crushing. It’s amazing how so many people use the same words to describe something.
    I’m lucky that I work in a really tiny community (less than 3000 people) and I get to walk to work through the wilderness every day. Ah, the joy of living in a fly-in only community. But then we get the extra pollution and disruption that living somewhere where most of the food is flown in by plane.
    I’m moving this summer and I’m very worried that I’m going to end up with a killer commute. Here’s hoping I don’t.

  32. You know, every job has pros and cons. I am a stay-at-home Mom so I don’t have a commute. However, I am potty training our almost two year old. Fun, fun, fun. I also drive around town a lot to doctor’s appointments, playdates, and grocery store runs. Granted I don’t live in a city so I don’t have to worry about traffic, but I do feel like I’m on the go a lot. Oh and the really fun part to going out and about all the time, is that I have a kid that wants to run and take off the second we get inside a store. UGH! (My kid is the kind of kid that the child leash was invented for. No joke.) I admit, that while I wouldn’t trade the last two years for anything, I do miss making my own money and I do miss the calm, PRIVATE ride in my car where I can listen to “grown up” music.

  33. Oh, ouch, yeah. There’s very little good about that. I’d suggest taking Ventura and Riverside, but even that path gets messed up at the wrong time of day. And even at the right time of day isn’t great.
    But, hey, look at the bright side: At least you don’t have to take that transition to the south 405! Otherwise known as “The Horror”.

  34. Wil,
    Looks like you had a great day. Moments with your wife, like that, are priceless according to most of the people in my life.

  35. I can’t imagine living your awesome life. You’re doing what I’ve always dreamed of. Traffic or no traffic, I’d trade my life for yours anyday. It must be amazing waking up and loving what you do for a living everyday!

  36. I commute from Pasadena to Brentwood every school day, and I cut through the Valley to do so (it’s far quicker than going downtown, in my experience): 210->134->101->405->Sunset Blvd. There are days that it absolutely kills me, but I still feel lucky. I love Pasadena, and my neighborhood in particular, and I love the school where I teach. The drive itself is no fun, but I’ve found ways to make it bearable–listening to KPCC or a podcast or calling home to New England to talk to my mom. I think at some point I just had to make the decision to be okay with it being what it was, a part of living and working where I want to be.

  37. I love how this sounds less like your usual narratives and more like a fictional story. Did you do this on purpose, or did it just happen because you’ve been writing more fiction as of late?

  38. I wonder if these people who have to be jammed in traffic every day have any alternatives,like maybe there could be a bus or a train, if enough people wish to share commute, maybe it would be possible to organize a bus service for conjested routes. And “being lucky” is basically experiencing your own good karma, which is good, because there is always hope for the future of those who don’t feel lucky. And it is totally awesome that you feel greatful, you are nice person, Will, which is great, thank you

  39. I feel your pain! Glasgow to Edinburgh and back every day (100 mile round trip) starting at 6am can also be soul crushing. It’s mostly soul crushing coming home though – I leave that early for a reason! Sometimes it’s traffic like you describe, mostly it’s just generally slow with stupid drivers making it worse here and there. Getting up so early is the real killer though.
    But it won’t be forever. It’s a problem that has arisen from the irreconcilable issues of having a really good job elsewhere, but loving where we live.

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