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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Autumn Leaves and Moments of Clarity

Last week has indeed been strange and has thrown me into the wonderful world of being A COMMUTER. I was dispatched to work a job in Lake Forest Park Washington. Well actually Kenmore, but that is moot to the subject at hand.

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The actual final round trip mileage is 165 miles. I leave the house at 5:00am and arrive at the job site at 6:30 give or take 5 or 10 minutes. What you have to realize of course is that we actually don't start working until 7:30, BUT this is the I-5 corridor through all of Pierce and King Counties here in my beloved Washington State and were I to leave the house at 6am, the travel time would make it impossible to arrive on time. By proof is my travel time at the end of the day. We generally quit for the day between 3:30 and 4pm. On Wednesday this week the trip home took 2 hours for the same 82 miles. On Thursday the trip took 2 1/2 hours, and on FRIDAY it took me a complete 3 hours to get home. No accidents, no getting off the freeway, no disaster weather, just an obscene volume of traffic that makes it impossible to get anywhere fast. I actually spent more than 2 hours on Friday driving my little Kia Rio in second gear!!!

So that all makes a 40 hour work week expand to 60+ hours and lord help me the day there is actually an accident in either direction on the freeway; everything comes to a dead standstill regardless of which direction the accident is in. Don't know if this is unique to the PNW, but a southbound accident will bring northbound traffic to a dead stop so everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE has an morbidly obscene desire to hopefully catch some real gore laying sprawled across the freeway.

So here's how the day lays out. Up at 4am leave the house at 5am work 8 hours, drive home, arrive home between 6 and 7pm and go to bed at 8pm just to start the whole thing all over again. I get at best a grand total of 2 hours time awake at the end of the day.

What this also means is that Chloe is stuck dealing with ALL of the chores on our little farm. Besides the usual things she does, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping AFTER working a full time job, she needs to feed and water all the animals. She has to keep the fire going [literally] since this is our sole source of heat, and deal with any of the crisis things that happen when you own as many llamas as we do.

I seriously considered finding a place to stay up north in order to avoid the constant driving, but then did the math. The cheapest motel room I could find with even the closest thing to moderately sanitary was 45 dollars a night. Again comes math and money. I get 38 miles to the gallon which means right now with the crash in gasoline prices, it only costs me 7.50 to drive round trip per day. Yes I spend 4 hours minimum on the road, but 45 per night for 5 nights is 18% of my gross earnings for the week. Despite the time spent on the road over a 5 day period I get to keep another 187.00 in my pocket for the 20 hours additional road time. Time may indeed be money and that may not sound like a lot of money to many, but that money saved in one week pays the monthly phone and electric bill. So what's a guy to do but grin and bear it.

Where or where you may ask are the Autumn Leaves and Moments of Clarity? When you are driving down the road travelling between 10 and 20 miles an hour for 1 to 2 hours on the way home, you have lots of time to look around you and unfortunately even more time to think. And given it is now November there is lots of fall color in the mix of alder, maple, sweetgum, cedar, fir and the occasional wild growing apple or cherry or pear tree on the slopes along the freeway. And its quite pretty. Its not the colors that blaze across the higher country of Eastern Washington, but close enough to remind me of my much much younger days on the east coast with fall colors from oak and hickory and ash and elm and birch and willow and maple and any number of other hardwoods that emblazen the natural landscapes of rural east coast communities. And there in lies THE CLARITY. Remember I told you when driving mindlessly your mind is anything but mindless. It makes huge leaps in directions you often are not prepared for.

That was then, this is now and the little moments are all I have. It's all about money and survival, the life I have now is what it is. Harsh economic times on a broader level and even harsher economic times on the home front have forced me to 'go where the work is' in an almost Steinbeck novel way. It's not the Great Depression, but things are bad enough that every action and every decisions starts with 'what's it going to cost'? Not in any grand metaphysical sense of emotions or risks to relationships but in real raw dollars. What price glory has been reduced to a simple what price.

THE CLARITY is that what I have now is quite possibly as good as it will get after all the changes the past two years have brought, and while I have not resigned myself to this life, it certainly has become the way of things. And worst of all is I am getting used to it.
Night work shifts averaging 12-18 hours with some as long as 25 hours, being ready to jump in the car at a moments notice and head off to a job somewhere working for a day here or a week there, often for people who not only don't know your name, but don't want to. Packing meals to go that have to be eaten while you work because the boss de jour doesn't believe that there are rules about meal breaks for a reason becomes the norm. Having to ask permission to use a porta-potty or a bush becomes a way of life, and waiting often for 2 or three hours to get that two minute becomes the rule rather than the exception.

But the bottom line is still always money. There is no pride just the fall if you choose not to take what's given how and when it's given. There are way too many people standing in line behind you to even pause to ask the normal questions about 'work conditions' that might have been a part of my past, and others' pasts.

I still apply for jobs that have some consistency and reliability, but it's to the point now where the numbers of people looking for work is so huge that most employers [even state and local government agencies and school districts] aren't even bothering to send out letters saying thanks but no thanks.

So what started out as simply commuting to make a buck turns into time spent looking at what should be beautiful Autumn Leaves and viola Moments of Clarity.

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