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Thursday, December 06, 2007  

The Worst Commute

One of the things I liked most about changing jobs was how much easier the commute got. The new office isn't any closer in terms of distance, but it's in a much easier direction. That is to say, I'm heading away from downtown in the morning, and towards downtown in the evening. So twice a day, I get to enjoy the sight of all the poor suckers stuck on the freeway going the opposite direction from me as I cruise effortlessly by. Trash, still commuting to downtown, hates me for this.

Tuesday night, when the snowstorm hit, I wasn't prepared. This was the first big snow we've gotten on a weekday since I started working here. Normally when I leave the office's parking lot, I can look right out onto the freeway I'm about to merge onto, with the generously-spaced cars zipping by at or above the speed limit. Not Tuesday. In the failing sunlight and the succeeding snow, I found myself looking out at a parking lot.

"Screw this," I said to myself, and forsook the freeway entirely. I never get on a backed-up freeway if I can help it. You're stuck there, indefinitely, with no way to change routes in between the off-ramps that creep by every half hour or so. I'd much rather stick to surface streets, even if I'm unfamiliar with them and risk getting lost. So that's what I did. Get lost, I mean.

This was not my plan. I've worked in Eden Prairie before, back in the nineties, and I knew some sneaky back ways in those days. All I needed to do now was find my way back to that area and rediscover one of my old alternate routes.

Easier said than done. I forgot to mention that in returning home from my office without getting on any freeways, I have to cross not one, not two, but four of them. And it's funny that I forgot to mention that, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

I was feeling pretty good about things as I zipped over that first freeway on a road that loops around behind a small hive of big stores and crosses that same freeway again. Visibility was still such that I could tell which direction I was going, and which directions I didn't want to go in (namely the ones that led down onto the freeway and appeared as an unbroken red line of motionless taillights). Really, there are only three or four major roads in this town, and they twist around and intersect in several different places and permutations, so how lost could I get anyway?

Following road #1 into a labyrinthine industrial area, I quickly had my answer. My strategy was to try and proceed in a north and/or east direction whenever possible, but still avoiding lines of motionless taillights. At one point I would have turned left to go north, but that would have put me right into a traffic jam whose end I couldn't see. So I turned right instead. Shortly thereafter, I realized that the sun was completely gone, so it was impossible to tell which way I was going. I thought I was headed east for a while, but then the signs on the cross streets told me I was somehow actually going south. I circled around for a while, until finally I realized why that one street going north was so backed up: it was the only way out of there. So I joined the crowd and settled in to wait, very glad that M. Small was at his nana's house and I didn't have to be at his day care to pick him up by five.

While I waited, creeping forward at a rate of about a block every fifteen minutes, I got a few cell phone calls from Trash on her own commute home. First she was leaving her parking ramp. Then she was in slow traffic on the street she takes south from downtown. Then she was in slow traffic on the street she takes west into our neighborhood. Then she was stuck trying to get her car into our driveway. "Hurry up and get home," she urged me. "All righty," I agreed, fifty feet in front of where I'd been the first time she'd called.

You know what's worse than being lost? Being lost when you can't move. It's one thing when you're in your car, and you're not sure where you are. It's like a little adventure, and it's kind of fun because any minute you'll come across a street sign or a landmark that tells you where you are and all of a sudden the Google Maps inside your head will snap back into alignment. That doesn't work when you're just sitting there, staring at the same office parks and apartment buildings for 45 minutes. I was just glad that my engine and heater and wipers were working, and that I had most of a tank of gas. Otherwise I would have been thinking about how long I would be able to last before having to eat myself.

At some point, hope appeared off in the distance ahead of me. It was a freeway sign. I couldn't tell which freeway it was for, but I knew I was going to have to cross an east-west one before I got home, and since I was going north, I figured this was it.

Except as I slowly crept closer, I realized that it wasn't the east-west freeway I had in mind, but the north-south one I'd completely forgotten about. And which I kind of thought I'd already crossed once. Now I didn't know which way I was going -- towards home, or away? Approaching the intersection at something like sixty miles a year, I had plenty of time to worry about the fact that the Google Maps inside my head had turned into a blue screen of death.

After I got over the freeway and oriented myself by figuring out which lane was northbound, though, the worst was over. There wasn't time to change lanes, so I just picked a direction and went with it. There was some more meandering through some streets that would have been unfamiliar tome even if they hadn't been coated in snow, and there was a lot more traffic, but at least it was moving and I was now out of Eden Prairie and back in a universe where streets are laid out in a less Escherian fashion. I was home less than 45 minutes later. Total commute time: 90 minutes. But at least I got home before M. Small did.

The next day I telecommuted.

posted by M. Giant 8:14 PM 5 comments

5 Comments:

All I want for Christmas is a GPS, a GPS, a GPS....

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 7, 2007 at 6:40 AM  

I've also learned the hard way to never try to use backroads in EP. Yikes!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 7, 2007 at 8:40 AM  

It took my bus 1 hour to drive from 9th street to 4th street downtown mpls.

By Blogger Tessa, at December 7, 2007 at 6:05 PM  

I saw this on a friend's blog, and couldn't help thinking how apt it was - "Minnesotans have a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome." We'll curse winter every time it comes, but damned if we'll leave.

By Anonymous Marchelle, at December 7, 2007 at 6:39 PM  

I also work in EP and live in the city. When the weather is good, it's an easy 20 minutes. When the weather is bad.... That said, there is no way I'd get off the freeways and try and I find my way around. It's the most confusing city with roads planned by someone who was clearly drunk.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 8, 2007 at 5:52 AM  

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