Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I'm ready for my tesseract now, please.

I know I've got a reputation as a chronically late person, so it may surprise you to learn that I am capable of (and indeed, compelled to) keeping track on a mile-by-mile basis of the minutes required to complete my commute every morning.

It's about a 20 mile drive from my home to work, and so herein starts the (often incorrect, it should go without saying) calculations. You might think, if you live anywhere other than Los Angeles, that a 20 mile drive, most of which is conducted on the so-called "freeway," would take anywhere from 20-25 minutes. I mean, 60+ miles per hour seems like a reasonable speed, especially at 5:30 in the morning, right?

Duh. You would be wrong. Dead wrong. And I would be late, which I am, almost every day.

(Even Google maps says this is a 30-50 minute drive, so clearly I am delusional in my insistence that this drive should take 20 minutes. CLEARLY.)

For one thing, the first 1/2 mile of my commute through my neighborhood requires me to either drive out of my way down my own street to make a somewhat illegal left turn across four lanes (four usually empty lanes, but in the rain and/or fog we've been having, to say nothing of the blackness of the mornings and the death wishes of some of my neighbors, those four lanes are treacherous) or to wait three minutes for a light to turn green. On my schedule, three minutes is a lifetime. This light likes to mess with me, sometimes almost about to turn... and then at the last minute, it changes it's mind and stays red. If you watch the opposite traffic signal, or the "walk" sign, you will see it blink, blink, blink, turn solid, even the street light itself turns yellow, as if to say, hey, cross traffic, slow down, this little lady wants to - nope, staying red for two more minutes, sorry. I've been tempted to run that red light when I'm particularly late and the morning is particularly solitary, but no, I would never do anything quite so irresponsible. Oh no. Not me.

After that, I'm finally on the freeway about 3 miles later, and that particular freeway has a surprising reputation, at 5:30 in the morning, of being pretty free flowing (if there's traffic here and I've left later than usual, it's at this point when I start thinking about calling in late to work). I spend the next 7 or 8 miles speeding along at a nice clip, watching the clock the whole time, knowing that at this pace, I could be at work in... 15 minutes? (My lack of math skills being well-known by now, I'm sure, so bear with me.)

It all sounds doable, and thinking positive is certainly a skill needed for navigating the roads of Los Angeles (and avoiding road rage and/or high blood pressure), and so for a few moments, until I come to the connector from that freeway to the next, I'm pretty confident and emotionally prepared to be on time (being on time requires advanced planning just as being late does) - driving in freeflowing traffic will do that to a person. But then - the connector. That blasted connector. It goes around and then under the freeway you just left (and there's a big white bird-like image painted on the underside of that freeway; I haven't had any luck finding out what that's all about, so if you know, email me, because I've been curious for about 3 years), and there's nice green foliage/weeds on either side, which you have plenty of time to observe, because most of the time, you're going nowhere fast. The next freeway is older and narrower and more heavily traveled and the merging skills of some of the other drivers on the road leave much to be desired, so it could take awhile to finally be moving along with the rest of the world.

These past few weeks, when my fellow commuters have obviously taken some time off, changing from one freeway to another has been a breeze, a delight, an exercise in making a smooth steady left turn to the left (what, you think you can make a smooth steady left turn to the right? What are you? High?), changing directions from mostly north to slightly more north, and west, but on normal early mornings, sitting on this interchange or whatever the dudes at CalTrans would call it, which is, I'm sure, less than half a mile in length, becomes the point when all my careful calculations, my plotted speed, my joyous inner voice whispering "I'm going to be on time!" become "Oh, shit, I'm totally late."

And now the mathematics begin running backward, in that way that it does for those of us who read "A Wrinkle in Time" and only pretended to understand the science behind it all (or I should say, pretended to pretend, as that book, and everything in it, including the famous tesseract, is totally fiction). Now my countdown changes from, "I have 8 miles to go, and 12 minutes to get there," which is a positive, to "If I can continue at this speed [usually 35 miles an hour once I've merged onto the new freeway] I will only be 10 minutes late, but if I can speed up to 60 in the next 3 miles..." to "I will be on time to work if I can get this baby up to 120 miles per hour."

You should know: I drive a 6 year old, four-door, 4 cylinder Honda Accord. I believe the speedometer goes up to 120, but I've never taken it past 90 (or was it 95?), so at this point, that 120 miles per hour is all theoretical. Anyway, the amount of road necessary for that manuever would be wasted. And now I'm all, "Okay, I'll only be... five minutes late..." "I'm only 8 minutes late..." And there starts another typical weekday morning. This is my routine four days a week, pretty much every morning. The drive home is another story, and usually takes longer.

However, on a personal note, I only have 6 more days of work until I'm off on maternity leave, and as long as the baby doesn't come early, doesn't come while I'm on the road, or at work, I'm pretty excited about that (the hospital is almost exactly at the mid-point between home and work, but I've read that driving while having contractions is a bad idea, go figure). Also, it would be so lovely to sleep past 7 for like 10 days in a row.

Because I know when those days are up, and our little baby comes to stay, we won't be getting any extra sleep at all. And I'd like to stock up while I can.

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