Ways to make commutes more fun

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Up until this week, my best friend and I drove twin Honda CRVs purchased a month apart in the summer of 2000.

Sadly, she left the Cult of the CRV -- look around, they're absolutely everywhere -- in favor of a Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Her trade-in had more than 50,000 miles on it. Mine? Less that 30,000.

The difference? Her commute: that insidious, well-worn path that pushes the odometer higher and higher with each passing day.

It seems more and more people are willing make the sacrifice so they can live where they want. A Southeast Missouri State University professor recently revealed he commuted to a St. Louis college for a semester and saw the same people heading back to Southeast Missouri on Interstate 55 night after night.

And just look at the once-rural area on U.S. 40 west of St. Louis and all the strip malls and chain restaurants popping up out there. Stop at a gas station out that way, and you'll see a mix of yuppie commuters and the locals they are plaguing. (The locals will be wearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts and wearing looks that say, "What the heck are these people doing here all of a sudden?")

Growing up in Sikeston, Mo., commuting wasn't on the horizon. I lived within walking distance of the Standard Democrat. A co-worker drove in from Oran, Mo., and I thought she was crazy.

But there were commutes in my future.

My first was from Sikeston to Cape Girardeau for my night-shift job at the Southeast Missourian. Thankfully, it was long before The Great Diversion Channel Construction Work Nightmare of 2002. Getting to work went pretty quick, but coming home took forever, particularly because the urge to use the bathroom struck around Benton just about every night, and that was before the days of Boomland. The nearest open public restroom was either back in Scott City or at the Miner exit.

The next commute was from Pensacola to Milton, Fla. That was a straight, 25-mile shot on U.S. 90, a.k.a. The World's Most Boring Highway. It was perfectly flat with only strip malls and slash pine on either side. The only entertainment was the endless stream of dilapidated vehicles people managed to get on the road in Santa Rosa County, Fla.

There is no vehicle inspection there, which means just about anything goes. The state of Florida also offers a "collectible" license plate for cars over 20 years old. So you'd see sedans from the '70s, rusted out, covered in primer and belching smoke but bearing collectible plates.

Yep. Those were some real treasures.

Finally, there was the commute from downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to a newspaper bureau in Weston, Fla., which took about half an hour on Interstate 595.

Now that was boring. The only way I survived was by flipping back and forth between Howard Stern on one station and Dr. Laura Schlessinger on another. There was plenty of time to analyze their similarities -- they both give it to people straight -- and their differences -- Dr. Laura doesn't support on-the-air farting, contests to win breast implants or drunken dwarves.

Today, it takes about five minutes to get from my home to the Southeast Missourian, and that's fine by me. But my thoughts are with my commuting brethren, out there watching for those familiar landmarks and flipping those radio stations.

Wouldn't that make a great story? Perhaps we could find the local resident who makes the longest commute!

If you are someone who commutes a long way -- or know someone -- e-mail me at hhall@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 121, and let's talk.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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