Living in the Car

In 1992, it was 54 minutes, and by ’98 it was nearly an hour. And last year, according to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian worker spent 63 minutes a day, or nearly 12 full DAYS across a working year, commuting to and from work. In Toronto, of course, it was decidedly longer: two full weeks for the typical worker bee. (Imagine Los Angeles.) In other words, StatsCan observes, we spend nearly as much time commuting as we do on vacation. Yoicks!

I can still hear Freddie Mercury after all these years, and it’s not “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “I’m in love with my car / Got a feel for my automobile…” I think it’s a pretty dysfunctional romance, for the most part. I’m often amused, for example (when I’m not irritated), by people’s mournful complaints about gasoline prices. (Cripes, I gotta pay nearly as much for gas as I do for soda pop or plasticized water!) But if it’s so bad, why aren’t more people seriously re-thinking their driving habits? Smart cars are still figures of fun and even scorn, and SUVs are not only filling the roads but, as my 6-year-old pointed out to me today, they’re starting to look like Hummers. (An obvious case of grill envy.) I’ve become convinced that many of the most bland and problematic aspects of our cities and ‘burbs come from putting the needs of cars foremost in how we plan them, though that might be a rant for another day. I’m in love with my car, indeed.

I’ve mainly managed to avoid commuting for most of my life, not because of any particular environmental virtue but mainly because I don’t love driving. (Bi-Weekly Bugle: Guy Cred Erodes With Surprise Confession.) I do it well, I can drive for long distances if necessary, but for fun? To blow off steam? (Dangerous, that.) To clear my head? Not interested, thanks, so whenever I could, I have located myself in the community if not down the block from my workplace. Here in Ottawa, my work for the Governor General involved 15 minutes on bus or bike, 25 by sneaker. For the past few months, I’ve just stumbled from bedroom to study, fired up the scribbling machine and I’m off. The 63-second commute, both ways. (The view is nearly as dazzling as the lunchtime banter.)

EcoWoman, on the other hand, pedals out of our driveway ten months an Ottawa year and spends her 63 commuter minutes pumping those lovely legs, taking in the riverside sights and listening to CBC Radio. My lady’s doing it right, say I, and in this town, she’s no Mad Biker Pedalling in the Wilderness, though Ottawa has no shortage of gridlock. Every once in a while, I find myself on the Queensway (or on the 401 over the top of Toronto) during hell hours and think, And folks do this every day? Sheesh.