Commute week: Simon Day finds existential fulfilment when the train and the bus come to the party.
My commute nearly killed me. And it also came pretty close to dismantling my marriage.
To get from my home in Titirangi to my previous job in Penrose, I had little choice but to drive. The journey by car was 30 minutes to an hour depending on weather, the school year, and what time I managed to get out of the house. Out through the Waitakere bush, along the Hillsborough ridge line with the views of the Manukau harbour, briefly into the thick traffic of the motorway, and on to the light industrial neighbourhoods of Penrose where lunch bars sell soggy cheese toasties and every second business is WOF shop.
I hated it. Driving in dense traffic is stressful. In the mornings it’s just too early for concentrating that hard. In the evenings I just wanted to be home. Instead I was trapped in a mosh pit of lonely quarantined steel sorrow, limping along the on ramp to the South Western Motorway.
Each day I was locked in a battle with my fellow commuters for every minute I was on the road. I’d frantically change lanes, desperate for the tiniest advantage. I’d take parallel back streets, marking my position in relation to trucks as I returned to the main artery; success was two cars ahead of when I turned off. I’d take the outside lane at busy roundabouts and do a full rotation to advance my position. I’d roll the dice and drive in the bus lane, knowing at least 20% of the time a Council employee in a floppy hat would be there protecting the territory.
It was a Sisyphean mission. I never achieved anything other than near crashes, too much adrenaline, and extreme frustration by the time I arrived home at the end of the day, knowing I would need to do it all again the next day.
The journey started to make me angry. It made me hate our beautiful little house surrounded by native bush. It made me long for my former flat in Ponsonby, for my old life.
Driving to work each day made me a bad person. Spending hours in traffic every day made me grumpy and ungrateful. I’d become a poor husband, short and curt and unhappy. Life was good. We were lucky to own a home. My wife ran her own successful business, and I had a job I loved. But commuting in my car blinded me to all the good things.
Then my commute tried to kill me. It was 14 February 2017. It was raining heavily and I was running late. The 9 o’clock bulletin came on RNZ as I shot through the Blockhouse Bay roundabout and I had the bus lane, at that hour legally available for cars, to myself. I laughed haughtily at the long line of cars in the right lane crawling towards their jobs, afraid to use the left lane, as I passed them by the dozen.
Then out of a small hole left in the long line of stationary vehicles at an intersection, a car turned through the gap and crashed into the front side of my vehicle just in front of my driver’s door. I was travelling around 50km an hour and as I was shunted across the road it felt like I was in a video game. The world moved in slow motion as I barely avoided crashing head-on into a power pole. I bounced over the curb and came to rest on the footpath against a fence. I sat shaking in shock, but completely unharmed, as I waited for the police to arrive. I was lucky. My beloved Toyota Caldina less so – she was a write off.
Without a car I was forced to try and take public transport. First I had to get to New Lynn transport hub, from here my bus would take over an hour as it weaved through the back streets of Onehunga. If I missed one bus the next one wasn’t for another 60 minutes. I was forced to buy a new car as soon as possible even though I wanted to stop driving.
Then the 171 and the Western Line saved me.
My new job at The Spinoff was in Britomart and suddenly public transport was my friend. The 171 leaves from almost directly outside my house and drops me at New Lynn. The Western Line takes 33 minutes from New Lynn to drop me two minutes walk from the office. Door to door it takes 55 minutes. I almost wish it took a little longer.
There are few other times when I have an hour all to myself. In the last year I’ve read the most books since the lazy days of university. I listen to podcasts about US politics. I spend guilt free time on Instagram. If I really need to I get a valuable head start on sending some emails.
Both the bus and train are modern and clean, warm in winter, cool in summer. Mostly they’re on time. It costs $4.80. It’s relaxing and pleasant. And I feel proud to be a part of the public transport revolution, a participant in the future functionality of the city.
It’s made me love living in Titirangi. When I get home to the bush each evening I feel like I’ve left the stress and grind of the city behind. It’s a sanctuary. I feel refreshed after my time on the train and the bus. It’s given me perspective and clarity on my life. Without the stress and frustration of driving I am a happier, kinder person. A better partner.
Public transport might just have saved my marriage.
Read more from Commute Week here
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