Monday, July 29, 2013

On The Road

通勤 (tsukin) - Commuting to work
Shortly after hitting the one month in my internship, I have broken into the top 90k users on Waze. That puts me into the top 10% of all users, which is pretty crazy considering that, before this internship, I had driven minimally since moving to Japan nearly 5 years ago.

This is, of course, a direct effect of my beastly commute. I didn't land my internship until well into the summer and was left just two weeks from offer to start date. With my employer not offering any support for housing and no reasonable public transportation options to get from Berkeley to Palo Alto, I had little choice but to make the haul by car. With the trip covering 50+ miles each way, I have already put down more than 2,000 miles of road time. While the idea of spending close to 3 hrs of my life in a car each and every day is hardly the most exciting use of my time, I've found a few ways to make it as painless as possible. I've even found myself enjoying the trip on occasion, especially on my way home.

My first key discovery was the casual carpooling community. No matter which route I took to the office, the worst part of the drive was always being brought to a standstill waiting to get through the toll gates for the bridge across the bay. It doesn't matter whether you go with the Bay Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, or the Dumbarton Bridge, you're going to get stuck in traffic trying to get across in the morning. That is, unless you are able to take the carpool lane, which not only bypasses the lines and flies through the gates, it also reduces your toll from $6 down to $2.50. Casual carpooling exists to exploit this difference. Riders gather at designated spots, where drivers with empty seats pick them up, drive them across the bridge, and deposit them in downtown SF. There happens to be a pickup point just a few blocks from my place along my normal route, so it doesn't even take much extra time for me to swing by. It practically eliminates my commute's greatest pain point, cuts down my drive time, and saves me toll fair. It also makes the drive a bit more interesting: I've gotten to chat with a variety of interesting people, from a UX designer at a startup to a guy with a crazy beard who works in the Haight to a lady whose daughter is interning at the same company as one of my roommates. The dropoff spot is just across the bridge, so I just hop right back on the freeway and carry on. Once I'm through the city, I'm essentially making the reverse commute from SF to the South Bay, which means traffic is pretty light for the rest of my drive. Wonderful.

This discovery opened the door for my second discovery: I-280 is an incredibly scenic stretch of highway. Carpooling makes driving through the city is hands down the quickest route for me, which means there is no reason to ever make myself suffer through the shit show that is the East Bay commute. It is almost always packed with cars and there's pretty much nothing to look at besides traffic, cement, and big box retailers that line the highway. Boooooring. In contrast, I-280 is gorgeous, starting with a few miles of tree-lined roads followed by a stretch alongside a range of forested mountains, then finally golden hills. Cruising through such beautiful scenery makes time spent in the car much less of a drag.

Both my supervisor and my boss are out of the office all week, so I'll be working from home more often than not for a while. While I'm looking forward to a morning commute that involves walking 10 ft from my bed ot the desk, at least I know that, on the days I do decide to go in, the drive won't be too bad.

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