Part of my daily work routine includes spending two hours in a car. I am a commuter and I drive one hour each direction as part of my work day. I commute from rural to urban and public transit isn’t an option. I have carpooled in the past but I’m currently driving solo. The drive is in Northern Ontario so I actually cover about 100 km of road in an hour, it’s mostly highway and other than the occasional snow storm it is generally an easy drive. I sit on cruise control and listen to a lot of podcasts, books, and CBC.
I know that many people commute, sometimes for their entire working career. It’s fairly common in urban settings that commuting is an accepted part of life. That’s a less common mentality in Northern Ontario and I occasionally strange looks when people find out where I live. And I do love where I live – it’s rural, we have a huge amount of space for gardens, forested trails, and I like the laid back pace of the small community we live in. It’s 15 minutes to the cottage and family is a short drive away. In some ways I can’t imagine living anywhere else – we got married in a field at our house and there already so many memories attached to this space.
In November I will have been doing this drive for six years. On the conservative side this means I’ve spent over 2,600 hours in my car, driving on the same chunk of the trans-Canada highway. I struggle with the cost, the time, the environmental impact and whole range of other factors associated with the drive (animal run-ins included). On the other hand, I do like the decompression and listening time I get in the car. But I’ve been struggling a lot recently with a sense of disconnection from community that seems to be aggravated by commuting.
At times I feel like I don’t spend leisure time in the city where I work and I also don’t spend quality time in the rural community/small town near where I live. It’s a bit like living in between spaces, being part of both but while simultaneously feeling like you’re on the outside of both communities. Partially it has to do with exhaustion and there only being so much time in the day. I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling this more so since Little Miss was born. I want to spend time with her and she currently goes to bed crazy early, if I come straight home from work I get about 1.5 hours a day with her — which is a drop in the hat on the grand scale of things, but is better than nothing. If I do errands after work, have coffee with friends in the evening, or anything else in the city there’s a good chance I don’t see her at all that day. I know this will change as she gets older but I imagine things also have the potential to be complicated in terms of juggling my commute, after-school care, and her extra-curricular activities (especially if those activities take her into the very city I’m commuting from).
I also struggle with participating in evening activities in the small town, mostly because of the burned out feeling that comes with the drive. There’s a much more limited selection of activities in that small town, so staying in the city is the only option is you want to do something like catch a movie or eat takeout pizza (yes, really – the nearest pizza place is an hour away from my home). A similar thing often happens on weekends – there may be an interesting culture based activity on the city, but by that point in the week I have zero desire to get back into the car and drag the whole family on a drive that feels all too familiar.
I’m genuinely curious about how other commuters bridge that connection gap and how they find balance in their driving/work/leisure/family lives. Perhaps I’m simply not doing a good job of seeking out meaningful connections in those two different communities (or picking one to focus on) and using exhaustion is an excuse – I don’t know. And I’m not sure what the right answer is to finding balance and I’m sure it’s different for everyone and might change depending on life circumstance. Back in the car I go.