Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Blogging the Commute (Not Live), Part 1

About this feature: I've been lucky enough to have primarily beautiful and traffic-free drives to work and bus rides to school, and that's given me a remarkable chance to spin stories and marvel at nature daily for a big chunk of my life. Maybe these posts will have you looking at your own commute a bit differently. Maybe they'll just be entertaining. At any rate, here's a peak at how I've handled that "down time" between getting from home to work and back.

My current commute is a straight shot down one road that takes me through three towns, through suburbanish centers, across a broad plain of farmed fields, through farmed valleys, past a couple of very ritzy neighborhoods, past upper middle class house farms, past well-to-do farming establishments, past mom-and-pop farms, and, of course, alongside the Rockies. Most of the time, I'll listen to a selection of music that provides inspiration for whatever writing project I'm working on at the moment, but sometimes I just take in the sights.

It starts with dropping off Andrew at daycare. Not exactly a positive start, but he usually gives me a huge smile as I wave good-bye, so I leave smiling all the same. Then it's a trek down a major town artery through urban accoutrements such as grocery stores and Starbucks and McDonalds. But the majority of the business has come up in the six years I've lived here, so I often find myself marveling at the engine of our economy. It may not be perfect, there may be better ways, but there's something extraordinarily comforting that, no matter what hell I have to deal with at the DDJ or what crisis is rearing its head in my life or in the country or in the world, that restaurant will be busy at lunch and packed at dinner, and there will always be people coming and going from this grocery store, and the stores in the mall will be having a sale, and there will be several movies showing that night.

Then I cross over the tracks, pass by one last housing bastion of the primary township, and the fields start with some mighty expensive houses in the distance. One of said houses had the largest "Bush/Cheney 04" sign I've ever seen proudly displayed from the balcony. I think there were even lights directed at it for those early morning & late night drivers in the winter months. I probably would've spared several thoughts for what it was like to live in that neighborhood, but once I saw that sign…suddenly the neighborhood had that much more personality. It's one thing to put an average political sign in your lawn, lots of people do that. But this guy might as well have put a neon square around that puppy. It made me wonder what sort of person could be that enamored of any party or politician.

Next up is the intersection that will forever be etched in my memory for the moment when, as we were rushing to the hospital because we thought I was in premature labor, I had Mark pull over so I could hurl into the grass. I remember the way the sun was striking that particular field through some trees. I remember the refreshing breeze as I shoved open my door. And I remember hoping I could last long enough to lean out just as far as necessary to avoid hitting myself or the car. Gotta love food poisoning at 35 weeks pregnant.

Then it's up a slight hill with a few expensive houses dotted in such a way that you can see one without seeing the other from the road. The first time I noticed that, I got a great idea of a satirical romantic comedy in which some poor motorist has a breakdown and goes to the first house she can see, but it's the house just beyond that's the home of her One True Love. The house she stops at, though, is the house of her next Asshole Loser Boyfriend. Ah, the difference of a few feet. I always chuckle at that one point of the road, thinking about the ways to spin that story.

I cross over a major state road, and suddenly I’m driving through a large open plain that seems to stretch from the Rockies to the sunrise. On a clear day (of which there are many here), I can see the faint dark bump on the horizon that could be Pike's Peak (some 100-150 miles away). I haven't actually researched whether the distant peak I'm seeing is Colorado's most famous one because to find out it isn't would detract from the power and mystery of that particular stretch of my commute. On this plain, in sharp contrast to the comfort of commerce, I get to wrap myself up in the comfort of people doing what has been done since humanity tacked on "gathering" to their list of activities. I don't mind the smell of manure. I don't mind the blow of dust or tumbleweeds. I love to watch that land through the seasons.

But my favorite part of the commute occurs just when the seemingly endless plain takes on a boundary. You can tell you're about to crest the lip of a valley. At this point, the next batch of expensive houses garner almost no notice from me. I'm too excited to see the valley. And it's beautiful. Lush, green, dotted with a few ponds, and some islands of interesting trees. In the mornings, there's often an ethereal swath of mist and fog covering the valley floor, and starting the descent down makes me feel like I'm driving into a cloud.

Strangely enough, politics intrudes into the commute again as I pass a house with a "Kerry/Edwards 04" sign just as big as the opposing sign at the other house. This house isn't as grand, and the sign is tacked onto a big fence. While the other fellow's sign was down within a week of the election, this guy kept his sign up well into my pregnancy, and perhaps afterward (I wasn't making the commute for several months then). At first I just felt sorry for the man. To have such faith and passion and belief so proudly displayed after it was no longer an issue. But when someone went and obscured the sign with layer upon layer of graffiti (I never could make it out), that sign stayed up still. That's when I wondered what sort of attention that man paid to his property. Political fervor or no, a graffiti-laced "Kerry/Edwards" sign clinging to your fence a year after the election is just sad.

The next stage of my commute takes me into a more congested urban area, and it gets a little boring. A few stores to note, one or two neat houses, the occasional golfer to study. The road dog legs a bit, and then I take my turn into the DDJ. Even in bad weather, that commute keeps my chin up. There's usually something interesting to look at and ponder, there's usually no snarled traffic or beyond stupid drivers (although there was the time that a carpool of five guys in front of me caught my attention with their in-car behavior; one guy puts his arm around another one, not a big deal except that arm stays there for the next fifteen minutes and I'm getting very curious; just as my interest is starting to wane, the be-armed fellow stands up as best you can in a Jetta, and the friendly guy next to him does something below my line of sight to the standing guy's legs; I nearly followed them when they turned off the road, I felt like I was watching a soap opera on mute).

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I blog the return home.

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