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Americans Rising Earlier, Traveling Longer to Work

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Americans Rising Earlier, Traveling Longer to Work

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Americans Rising Earlier, Traveling Longer to Work

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

As we mark the official arrival of the 300 millionth American this week, one fundamental fact leaps out: There are more of us everyday, and many of us have to get to work at more or less the same time, on the exact same set of roads and rails. The conclusions of a new report by the Transportation Research Board will not surprise you. The daily commute is more wicked than ever.

To avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic, a growing number of nine-to-fivers have become seven-to-three-ers. More and more Americans travel from suburb to suburb for their jobs, where there's less public transit but the roads aren't always so crowded. And more people compute from the city to a suburb - than the other way around.

Commuting is also tied to the search for affordable housing, rarely located close to work, so commuters are forced to come up with creative ways to cope. Think lots of lots of books on tape. In fact we have an e-mail challenge for you this hour. What's the most interesting way you pass the time on your way to and from the J-O-B. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Later on in the program, more hours at the office means less time with the kids, right? Well, wrong, according to a new study by the University of Maryland. But first, surviving our commutes?

How has your commute changed over the past five years? How do you cope with it? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And joining us now, the author of the Transportation Research Board's report, Alan Pisarski who's with us from the studios of member station KUT in Austin, Texas. And thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. ALAN PISARSKI (Author, Transportation Research Board Report): Delighted to be with you.

CONAN: And, again, the conclusion is not surprising, but why do you think it takes us more and more time each year to get to work?

Mr. PISARSKI: Well, I think we have a system out there of transit and highways that we've - was bequeath to us by a previous generation, and we haven't really quite held up our end of that bargain in creating the new facilities for the future.

CONAN: And this is failure of imagination or a failure to realize the difference in the way jobs are structured these days?

Mr. PISARSKI: I think a big part of it is not recognizing the nature of the changes that we're seeing. You enumerated many of them. A lot of our commuters now are shifting to what we call the shoulders of the peak period. We long ago stopped calling it the peak hour. We - but even now they're shifting from the peak period. We're talking about people before seven, before six, before five a.m. leaving for work.

CONAN: Before five a.m.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yes, sir.

CONAN: There is something, a phenomenon which we've been hearing - new to me: extreme commuting.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yeah, this is a new term, that it's unfortunate when you need a new term, but it was 2003 that the Census Bureau coined the term extreme commutes, which is commutes over 90 minutes. They began seeing it for the first time in the 2000 census, and it began - it just grew and grew.

Believe it or not, in the ‘90s we didn't even have the ability to recognize a commute of that length, simply because the forms that people filled out didn't have it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PISARSKI: We just didn't even bother. So I think that's an amazing message. Today we've got more than 10 million people commuting more than 60 minutes, and about a third of those - a little more than a third of those are commuting more than 90 minutes.

CONAN: And is that one way or round?

Mr. PISARSKI: That's one way, one way.

CONAN: That's one way.

Mr. PISARSKI: That's the morning commute, and in many cases, of course, the afternoon doesn't look as good.

CONAN: And I keep reading about, you know, rails - rail lines in New Jersey that are beginning to run express trains from Trenton to New York City beginning at 5:10 in the morning, things like that. Trenton's an awful long way from New York City.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yeah, I - one of the things that - the three things that are interrelated here, in addition to the early start times and long travel times, is the numbers of people who are leaving their home county to work in some other county, and some other county that's two, three, or four counties away. We've seen an explosion in the last 15 years in people leaving their home county to work.

CONAN: Hmm. There's also the way that, you know, in big cities, that public -mass transit is designed. You look, for example, at a map of the metro system here in Washington, DC, built not all that long ago. They just finished it a couple of years ago. And it's designed to bring people in from the suburbs to downtown.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yes. This is true of the highway systems in many instances as well. Our whole thinking was oriented as you might think of the spokes of the wheel. It was very much a radially designed system, and our travel activities in commuting these days are very much like the hub of the wheel. They're circumferential.

I like to call it the donut metro now, where you have the suburbs as the major source of jobs, people working from suburb to suburb, people commuting out -what we call the reverse commute, going out from the center city to the suburbs - people coming in from rural areas and exurban areas and even other metro areas to the suburb. If you're in Washington, think of living in the Baltimore suburbs and working in the Washington suburbs. It's typical all over the country.

CONAN: We want to hear from you on all of this: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and we're particularly challenging our e-mailers to send us their description of the most interesting way they pass their time on their way to and from work. Let's begin with Darryl(ph). Darryl's calling us from Newport in North Carolina.

DARRYL (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Darryl. Go ahead.

DARRYL: I listen to NPR. It's one of the few times where I have a radio under my exclusive control. There's nobody telling me to change the station, so I listen to NPR radio - seriously.

CONAN: My colleague Robert Siegel often describes the increasing commute as the best gift ever to public broadcasting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Darryl, keep listening. Thanks very much for the call.

DARRYL: OK.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Alan Pisarski, this is - can be - there's all kinds of businesses, not just public radio, that this is changing. For example, you see McDonald's, and Dunkin' Donuts, and those kinds of franchises opening up much earlier than they used to, and things like satellite radio, to which in part, are directed to commuters.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yeah, we sometimes call it the Starbucks Effect, where you see people more and more joining things into their work trips: stopping off for coffee, stopping off at a gym, dropping off videotapes. There's a whole bunch of things - a chain of activities that people have kind of brought in as part of the baggage of their commuting, both going and coming.

CONAN: A lot of people also say that this is the time they have to themselves, and I think that caller reflected that.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yes.

CONAN: So, yeah.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yeah, I think it is very - there - we tend to overstate the extremes, and there are a lot of people who find their commute a great time for decompression or time for themselves, time of some distance from the rest of the world, and they feel that they need it. I often ask them, does that mean they've like to have it even longer? But I haven't found too many people willing to volunteer for that.

CONAN: Let's turn now to Heidi. Heidi's calling us from Portland, Oregon.

HEIDI (Caller): Hi, yes, I'm Heidi. I'm an adjunct writing instructor at several colleges, and you asked how our commute's have changed in the last five years. And one thing that colleges and universities do now is they hire more part-time instructors, and so my job looks like - I live in Portland, and on Mondays I drive 80 miles to The Dalles to teach a class, and I drive 80 miles back to Portland to teach another class, and then I drive home.

And on Tuesdays, I drive from Portland to Vancouver, Washington, to Longview, Washington, and then back home Portland. And then it just continues through the week.

CONAN: How do you remember? Because a lot of commuting, Heidi, is sort of on autopilot. How do you remember where you're going?

HEIDI: Well, I'm a chronic list-maker, and I rely really heavily on notes that I'm writing down.

CONAN: So you - do you put it on the coffeemaker: Today it's The Dalles?

HEIDI: Well, I have a little Palm Pilot, and if that ever crashes then let's all pray for my students.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Heidi, good luck to you. Appreciate the phone call. Here's some e-mails, responses we got to our e-mail challenge. This from Craig Crawford(ph). I determined that I commuted for approximately one year over a 10-year stay in Washington, DC. The time I spent in the car, I flossed, and I learned to play the harmonica.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I now work at home in South Carolina and have so much more time for the things I enjoy - suggesting that maybe flossing isn't at the top of his list.

Here's this one from Marilyn Evans(ph). During my long drives to and from work and across Missouri on business trips, I take my Portuguese CDs and work on a new language. Bom dia. Well, bom dia to you, Marilyn Evans.

And this from Knitty. In September, I began - oh, that's about knitting. Excuse me, this is from Margarita. In September I began knitting my Christmas gifts while on my 45-minute New Jersey transmit leg of my trip and subsequent 45-minute subway ride, mostly scarves.

Well, I guess that suggests some of the ways people pass the time on their commutes, and this is a great boon, I would think, to the newspaper and book industry, Alan Pisarski.

Mr. PISARSKI: Yeah, I think it is. In fact I was recently on a longest trip, and I took along those CDs on tape, and I had a wonderful time with it.

I think one of the things worth mentioning here that has really helped is the cell phone, particularly for working women. I think the fact that they have a cell phone at their command means that they don't feel as disconnected from the world. They - if they're stuck in traffic, on a bus or a car, they can call home and say turn off the TV, finish your homework, I'll be 10 minutes late, listen to your father, whatever it has to be...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PISARSKI: ...but I don't feel - I think they don't feel that they're as inaccessible as they used to be, and I think it has helped a lot of people to be inured to the kind of travel that they have to undertake.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation: Lauren Young, personal business editor at BusinessWeek magazine. She's worked on a number of stories about lengthy commutes. She joins us now from NPR's bureau in New York City, and, Lauren, thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. LAUREN YOUNG (Personal Business Editor, BusinessWeek Magazine): My pleasure.

CONAN: Now when you talk about extreme commutes, how bad is bad?

Ms. YOUNG: Oh, it's bad. You know, in New York, for example, the average person commutes at least 40 minutes, so that's minor. But there are people that are traveling easily two hours a day, often out to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, you know, they're crossing several states, so - but then also don't forget about places like South Dakota and North Dakota. Those people have crazy commutes as well because they're so far out in rural areas that to get anywhere requires a very long drive.

CONAN: Hmm, I did spend some time in Minor League Baseball, and if you think - it's not quite commuting - but if you think about going from El Paso, Texas to, well, anywhere, the - but the stories of the people you write about who commute from New York, they're crossing state - why do - why are people willing to travel that long?

Ms. YOUNG: Well, it's a very interesting question. I should mention there are plenty people that actually fly to commute as well. I know people that are coming from St. Louis to Chicago, from Miami to New York City, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and they're doing it, you know, a couple days a week -they'll park themselves down somewhere in a hotel or get a cheap studio apartment, or not so cheap, depending on the city that they're in.

But, you know, that's how they have involved their life, and they're doing it mainly for money. People - or for jobs. It's where the jobs are. But, you know, there's tradeoff, too. You're living far from these urban centers for a reason. Maybe it's better schools for your kids.

CONAN: Speaking of flying, Alan Pisarski has to leave us to catch a plane. We hope the drive out to the airport's a pleasant one, Alan.

Mr. PISARSKI: I look forward to being home in Falls Church in a couple of hours.

CONAN: Alan Pisarski is author of a new report about commuting released this week by the Transportation Research Board and speaking with us today from the studios of KUT, our member station in Austin, Texas. We'll have more with Lauren Young of BusinessWeek magazine when we return from a break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION From NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking today about extreme commutes, the hours in some cases spent in the car, train, or bus on the way to and from work. By one report, the number of people commuting more than an hour grew by nearly 50 percent in the 1990s. We posted a rundown of some of the worst commutes in the United States on our Web site at npr.org.

Our guest is Lauren Young, personal business editor at BusinessWeek magazine. Of course you're welcome to join the conversation. How has your commute changed over the past five years? Any tips for the rest of us about surviving long trips to the office? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. And we also have an e-mail challenge for you this hour. What's the most interesting way you pass the time on your way to and from work? E-mail us: talk@npr.org.

This from Richard. I live in Wilson, Wyoming, and work in Teton Village, Wyoming. That's Jackson Hole. I commute about 15 minutes while looking at the Teton Mountains, moose, elk, coyotes, and eagles. Of course the snow may be many feet deep and the temperatures well below zero, but the commute is pretty painless. Sorry. We hate you, Richard.

This from Buddy Wheeler(ph). I work in a hotel in - I work in Lexington, Kentucky, several days a month and live in Louisville. The commute is about an hour and a half. My way to pass the time is to take my laptop and listen to the commentary tracks on movies that I like. I plug the laptop headphone jack into a cassette adaptor and get to hear insights into my favorite movies. Love the show. Thank you very much for that.

And this from Glenn in Mason, Michigan. Luckily it's only weekends, but I commute 1,800 miles one way to teach a class on Saturdays. I fly to the West Coast on Fridays, teach my graduate class at Brooks Institute of Photography on Saturday mornings and then fly back on redeye Saturday night. A lot of frequent miles. Thank heavens that the Internet allows me to work with the students during the week.

And, Lauren Young, just to follow that up, what ever happened to telecommunicating?

Ms. YOUNG: It exists. It definitely exists. But, you know, the importance of face time can not be underestimated. You have to be able to get in front of the people that you work with every once in awhile. It might be one or two days a week. It may be one or two days a quarter, but it's really important to be in the office. And it's not just because of the TV show, The Office, and you see all the funny inner workings of what happens in an office - the social aspect of it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. YOUNG: But work actually does get done in the office, and sometimes decisions have to be made as a group. So the group dynamic, I think, is a very important part of the way we work. However, I think telecommuting has actually added to this because it's given people the thought that, hey, I can come in a few days a week, but I'll move out a little bit further, I'll be further away, I'll see the stars, I'll see the sky.

CONAN: And then policy changes, and you find yourself having to come in five days a week.

Ms. YOUNG: No, you - that's true. But, you know, a lot of companies clearly they realize that happy workers are better workers, and so they are trying to adapt and adjust to this. I was reading about Yahoo, for example. They have a lot of people who commute from San Francisco up to Silicon Valley...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. YOUNG: ...and it can be a long ride. So they've got wireless in the van or the bus that they're taking people back and forth from so you can actually get things done. You can be online. It's an Internet company. That doesn't surprise me.

CONAN: No.

Ms. YOUNG: But it's helpful.

CONAN: Yep. Let's talk with Ben, and Ben's with us on the line from Detroit.

BEN (Caller): Oh, hello. Am I on?

CONAN: Yes, you're on, Ben. Go ahead, please.

BEN: Oh, thank you, thank you. My phone cut out for a second there. Yeah, I just wanted to share that I live in northeast Indiana and - but I do a lot of work in Detroit. And I once made it through an entire 36-CD, unabridged reading of Lord of the Rings inside of (unintelligible).

CONAN: In how long?

BEN: A week.

CONAN: In a week.

BEN: In a week.

CONAN: Well, how did it work out? Did Frodo ever - no, no, never mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Ben, I assume now you're listening to replays of Tigers' games.

BEN: Actually I just got done with listening to a Tony Hillerman book read by George Guidall.

CONAN: Ben, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. Have fun driving.

BEN: Oh, thank you.

CONAN: And, Lauren, let me ask you, do you talk to people who actually enjoy their commutes?

Ms. YOUNG: I do. I know a lot of people who say it's their time to decompress, but there's a whole social aspect to commuting as well. There are these busses that are coming in and out, for example, from New York City, or I know the trains that go up to Connecticut have a bar cart. So there's a whole social life that exists for people. And even the people who are taking the shuttle back and forth from Washington, DC, to another city, they - everyone knows each other, and how's your kid, you know, did they get into school, that kind of stuff. I'm shocked though, Neal, where are the Podcasters today?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. YOUNG: Why has no one mentioned Podcasting yet? I think that that is actually one of the greatest technological advances, the iPod, for people because of the sheer volume of stuff you can put on your iPod and listen to.

CONAN: Well, speaking of the social aspect of commuting, our next guest, Greg Rosoff, takes two hours to get to his job at the U.S. Mint, that is if the train runs smoothly and traffic on the way to the railroad station is not too crazy. It's a long slog, but it is not all bad he says. Greg Rosoff joins us now in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in today.

Mr. GREG ROSOFF (Two-Hour Commuter): My pleasure.

CONAN: And your commuter train, the MARC line, has a reputation for being uniquely social. Tell us a little bit about it.

Mr. ROSOFF: Yes, it's - the 525 Northbound out of Union Station has a group, second car in, that has at any given point in time probably 20 people. The entire population of the group might exceed 40, and on any given day, 20 will show up.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROSOFF: We have - a fair amount of alcohol gets consumed. It's been going on for probably the better part of a decade. I've only been on it myself for a little more than five years - close to six. And these are people that you get to know very, very well. I've had...

CONAN: Mm-hmm, you must spend more time with them in fact than you do with your friends.

Mr. ROSOFF: Well, they actually had been my friends. I had a couple of personal instances and (unintelligible) issues in my life, and these people really reached out...

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. ROSOFF: ...and came around.

CONAN: So they took an interest when you were in trouble.

Mr. ROSOFF: Very much so. When I'd first started, several years - probably the beginning of 2002, perhaps the end of 2001 - I had been driving, and my boss - it's funny, Alan had mentioned leaving before 5:00 a.m. I'd actually leave my house at 4:50 and...

CONAN: Yeah, no, he said 90 minutes, and you were shaking your head, hey, that sounds pretty good.

Mr. ROSOFF: I would love to have a 90-minute commute, one-way. And as we were - as I was beginning - my wife had been diagnosed with an illness, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, when she was 12 - and we'd been married for 10 years and she had gotten progressively worse. And as a result of jobs, worked with Alex Brown in Baltimore and had gotten shut down, so I ended up going to KPMG Consulting.

Long story short; I ended up commuting to downtown DC, and over the course of that time - for the first several months - my wife had gone through a series of operations. And I began to speak with a number of the people on there, particularly - there's a number of Vietnam vets. I'm a former military, and what can I say, birds of a feather flock together.

CONAN: Sure. And it's on your mind. You can't help but talk about it.

Mr. ROSOFF: Absolutely, and there were a lot of nights that I'd been at the ER all night long, and it evidently - it was visible.

CONAN: This did not turn out well.

Mr. ROSOFF: No, she - I had to take her off of life support January 30, 2005. For probably the last two years of her life, she was constantly in and out, bouncing between rehab centers, et cetera. She was coming down with one respiratory ailment after another.

And for just a brief example, when I had - the first two months of 2004 - well, three months - she had had to have her hip replaced and her - the opposite ankle fused, and she had - her orthopedic surgeon had wanted to have both done in order to reduce the likelihood of sepsis setting in. And they went ahead with the operation, and she never really recovered that - from that. And over the next two and a half months from that point forward, I - she hadn't come home. So repeatedly these friends that I'd made on the train had come up and had taken me out to dinner, were dropping things off. It was just such a statement of the power of community on the train.

CONAN: And after your wife died, it turned out to be a lot more than that.

Mr. ROSOFF: Well, it did. Over the course of probably 2004, I got to know a couple of people, one person in particular, Jennifer Sheline(ph). She and I got much closer. And we probably - Valentine's Day of 2005 after my wife had passed away, a mere 10 days - 11 days after her funeral - a number of friends, folks on the train, were encouraging me to go out and do something. And Jennifer twisted my arm, virtually, and forced me to go out to dinner in Baltimore, and that set the tone perhaps.

And over the course of the next couple of months, we got to know one another better, and we began dating. We've gone out to California twice, a couple of times London. And it's looking as though a marriage is a quite possible likelihood.

CONAN: Love on the MARC train.

Mr. ROSOFF: One would have never thought of that.

CONAN: And I gather you're also now thinking about moving to Bethesda, which is a lot closer.

Mr. ROSOFF: Well, it is. It's - actually it's a stepping point for me. We're looking at possibly moving over to London for a period. It's love on the MARC train. It's - by far I do not have a unique story there.

CONAN: So if you get married, are you going to do it on the platform at Towson?

Mr. ROSOFF: Well, actually it's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSOFF: Conductors - we do have a number of attorneys in our midst and some research has been done and conductors do have a number of the same rights as sea captains (unintelligible).

CONAN: Really? I did not know that.

Mr. ROSOFF: Neither had we.

CONAN: Probably neither did they.

Mr. ROSOFF: I doubt they've been approached. But it's been alluded to.

CONAN: Greg Rosoff, good luck to you and to your future bride.

Mr. ROSOFF: Thank you very much. Greg Rosoff works at the U.S. mint and he met his future wife aboard the MARC train, which runs in and out of Washington, D.C., often very slowly. And he joined us here in Studio 3A. Thanks again.

Here's some more of the e-mails that we've gotten on our e-mail challenge of the most interesting ways to pass the time. This from Michael in Cleveland, Tennessee.

While living in Marietta, Georgia - a suburb of Atlanta - I developed a system where I would put on my necktie, shave my face, and gel my hair, while driving to work. This allowed me a little bit more time to sleep in, in the morning.

This is from William.

I used to take the bus two hours each way to work on a route that passed the release point at the local prison. I spent most mornings eavesdropping and learning about prison life.

This from Martin in Cincinnati.

I came to look at my long commute as a learning opportunity. While waiting at stop lights or stopped in traffic jams, I learned to play harmonica. People now say I play a mean Bob Dylan.

Harmonica seems to be the instrument of choice for our commuters today. And this from Robert Beemer(ph) in Baltimore.

Of course I listen to NPR to pass the time, but I also play my harmonica. Believe me, I didn't set this up, it was the next one. Keep up the great work. P.S. I commute from Baltimore City to the suburb Columbia to work.

Not as bad as Greg Rosoff's commute, but getting there. And Lauren Young of Business Week magazine, you chronicle a lot of stories not unlike Greg's. And people do an awful lot in terms of commuting.

Ms. LAUREN YOUNG (Editor, Business Week): They do, but, you know, at what price? I guess his story has a very happy - or seems to be moving in a very happy direction. But there have been some research studies, for example, a commuter who travels one hour one way would have to make 40 percent more than his or her current salary to be fully satisfied with their life as a non-commuter. That's a lot of money - 40 percent.

CONAN: And I've heard people who commute - and I think the argument here is alone in cars, as more and more people do - that the argument that for every 10 minutes spent commuting you lose 10 percent of your social connections. I don't know where they come up with figures like that, but…

Ms. YOUNG: That's exactly right. That's a Harvard University study and they also have shown that people who have long commutes have gas, congestion. They actually have…

CONAN: That I believe. That I believe.

Ms. YOUNG: …high blood pressure. Cars - I can understand that - increased hostility, lateness, absenteeism, and adverse effects on their cognitive performance.

CONAN: We're talking about America's commute in our series, America at 300 Million. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Lee on the line. Lee's with us from New Bern in North Carolina.

LEE (CALLER): How's it going?

CONAN: All right.

LEE: All right, I don't have as a great a story as the one who met his wife on there, but I used to live up in New York and it was a two hour commute each way. I was an attorney - two hours commute each way to go court. And while he met his wife, I used to get out of the car with the road rage and chase squeegee men - the guys that clean your squeegees. The road rage was just horrible.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Had did you deal with it?

LEE: Chasing them. And then we actually moved down to - my wife and I moved -made a conscious choice to say we didn't want that lifestyle. And moved down to New Bern, North Carolina and now I have a five-minute commute. And when you were talking about, you know, 40 percent of your salary the commute - the pay is a lot less down here but the lifestyle is great.

CONAN: Hmm. That's interesting, Lauren Young. There are a lot of people, I suspect, like Lee.

Ms. YOUNG: It's the trade off. That's - ultimately there's a breaking point where people say what do I have to give up to get back what I miss. And it's -usually there's something really extreme that will happen that pushes people over the edge. But you do hear these stories everyday where people say bye-bye New York City, bye-bye San Francisco. I'm moving where the living is easy.

LEE: And one more thing, it just feels like we got our life back. We've come down here, we have four extra hours a day now to be together. You know, we've started a band. We do all sorts of things that we never could have done in New York. And that's all I wanted to say.

CONAN: All right. Thank…

Ms. YOUNG: Lee - he didn't mention children, so I'm assuming there aren't any. But that's actually the thing that pushes people over the edge often, is when they have kids in the family and you realize how much time you're missing from your family.

CONAN: Thanks Lee for the call and good luck with that brutal commute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEE: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Here's an e-mail from Heidi in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

My commute in Ann Arbor is only 10 minutes, but I paid my dues when I lived in Connecticut and sat at the parking lot that was I-95 at rush hour. I coped with NPR and French tapes, but not everyone retains their sanity in that commute. I once witnessed a man with his socks hanging off his ears barking out his window at the other cars. That's as good a way to pass the time as any, I guess.

You see a lot of strange things in cars, don't you Lauren?

Ms. YOUNG: I love that. That is a wonderful image that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Thank you, Heidi.

CONAN: And you get that for free. Let's get Scotty on the line. Scotty calling us from St. Louis.

SCOTTY (CALLER): Hi, yes. I just was wanting to have the topic brought up about slugs, in D.C.

CONAN: Slugs?

SCOTTY: Yeah. I used to live in D.C. and I don't live there no more, but I know there's a phenomenon in D.C. called the slug lines where people will get in other people's cars to commute into work. And I've, you know, I've since moved away and nobody in the rest of the country knows anything about it.

CONAN: There are other places in the country, though - this is so you can drive in the HOV, the high occupancy vehicle lane.

SCOTTY: Yes.

CONAN: Because if you have more than one person in your car and if you're driving alone. And Lauren I know that there are various places around the country that an equivalent to that. They may not call it a slug line.

Ms. YOUNG: Right. And actually now they're realizing that it could be a cost center for them as well. So if you're willing to pay a little bit more and you're traveling alone, you could actually travel in the high occupancy vehicle lanes without those blow up dolls in your seat with you or finding some car buddies. But it is - this is the way that communities are grappling with this.

And, unfortunately, the cost of building a road is - as you probably know -it's pretty extensive. So, unfortunately, there aren't more opportunities for people to move quickly into places. But in plenty of cities too you'll find areas where those high occupancy - there's times for buses to go in, for example, or they're taking lots of people in and out during the peak rush hours, if you will.

CONAN: Thanks for the call Scotty, and how's your commute now in St. Louis?

SCOTTY: It's about 20 minutes. Not too bad.

CONAN: Not too bad. Here's another e-mail. This from Dan.

My commute changed drastically last September when I began bicycling 16 miles to work and 16 miles home everyday. I know have nearly 8,000 miles on the bike. I've lost 25 pounds. My doctor took me off blood pressure and bi-polar mediation. Of course, it's harder to play the harmonica on a bicycle than in the car - what's with the harmonicas?

And this final one, Kathleen in Portland, Oregon.

My husband rides a commuter train from Portland to his job at the capital in Salem - a trip of approximately one hour. He often watches series television on DVD on his laptop. This got tricky while he was watching The Wire, which has R-rated scenes. He would situate himself in a corner seat with headphones and try to keep the screen oriented away from other riders. No one ever remarked on it, so he assumed it remained his secret.

Lauren Young, thank you very much for being with us today.

Ms. YOUNG: Get home safe.

CONAN: Lauren Young, personal business editor at Business Week. When we come back we're going to be talking about time with the kids and housework. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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