On The Road Again(and Again And Again... )
One commuter tells his tale.
Thursday, April 27, 2000
I spoke to Bill Tyler on his cell phone as he drove to pick up his son from a ball game at school in Aptos. The line crackled predictably as Bill navigated the hills of Santa Cruz, and at a particularly tricky spot his voice broke up unintelligibly and his signal was lost altogether.
"You may lose me again--this is a bad spot," Bill told me. As a veteran commuter of 20 years, he knows every inch of the roads from Monterey to the looming Silicon giant up north.
"When you get over the hill on Highway 1 and hit Castroville, you listen to traffic reports and make a choice," he explains. "You can either stay on Highway 1 up to Highway 17, or cut over on Highway 156 to Highway 101."
Either way you cut it, he says, you''re facing a trek of 70-75 miles lasting typically from one and a half to two and a half hours. He should know. Since 1980, Bill, who now lives in Aptos, has commuted on and off from Monterey and Carmel to computer science positions at Xerox in Palo Alto, and Adobe Systems and AT&T Labs in San Jose.
That was never his intention. After moving to Monterey for his wife''s work, Bill and his wife became addicted to the Peninsula''s small-town, beachside lifestyle. Bill eventually found work in the area at Pacific Grove''s Digital Research, but when the company folded he was drawn back to Silicon Valley for its high concentration of quality firms. Moving to San Jose was not an option.
"San Jose feels like a small L.A. to me," he says. "It''s all concrete and buildings and there''s no ocean." Combine that with real estate prices that exceed even the pricey Monterey-Carmel belt, and Bill resumed his 150-mile round-trip commute and all the headaches that came with it.
Bill''s longest commute ever fell on the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, when downtown Santa Cruz shut down, gas pumps didn''t work and the bridges were down on Highway 1. Following detours on a near-empty tank, Bill coasted into Monterey on fumes five hours after leaving work. Just last year, Bill sat for hours in stalled traffic on Highway 101 after a murder in Prunedale. These were the worst cases, but Bill says an average of two accidents a week was normal during his years of commuting from the Peninsula to the valley.
Some people hurl insults at other drivers, eat mountains of French fries, or drive with reckless abandon to cope with the monotony and boredom of wasted hours on the road, but Bill just listened to the news. While undoubtedly a more productive response than many, Bill still suffered a kind of dehumanization.
"I used to notice a change in my mental state as I drove over Highway 17," he explains. "I started out relaxed and got more and more wound up. On my way home, when I reached the summit of 17 and the air got cooler, I started to feel more human again."
Three cars and missed time with family were the other casualties of Bill''s commuting years. With three young children and a partner who also worked, Bill struggled to leave work early to make it down to the Peninsula for events at school and special time with the family.
"It''s difficult when you leave for work before the kids get up and walk in the door as they''re on their way to bed. You hardly see them. It''s not good for your relationship with your wife, either. It''s easier for an adult to understand, but it''s still not good."
So last June, Bill and his family left their beloved Monterey and moved to Aptos, a move that cut Bill''s commute in half. Good schools, nice neighborhoods and the same salty air made the transition smoother, though Bill still prefers the Peninsula.
"Moving closer to work means more time at home and less time on the road," he says with relief. "It means a lot less wasted time."