What's worse? Your commute in the morning or your commute in the afternoon?
On the surface, this should be an easy call. The morning commute is worse because it ends with you being at work. Unless you work as a massage tester or cookie taster, that's worse.
Yet easy answers are often deceiving. Commuting is a complex, challenging activity. There are many forces at play. The seasons can have an effect. For instance, a sunny morning commute in May can be a cheerful thing. A dark January pre-dawn drive to work can push some motorists into deep depression.
There are also profound differences in the character of each journey. In some respects, the morning commute is the more optimistic of the two. You've only been up for a few hours and that means statistically there hasn't been as much time for life to go wrong. Burnt toast? Too much sugar in your coffee? Spill orange juice on your best suit? That's about it.
Even the radio news reports are a little more upbeat. In the afternoon, you hear about all the things that have gone wrong during the day – earthquakes and stock market crashes, pointless accidents and freak travesties. In the morning, none of that has happened – you hear about all that "might" go wrong along with all that has gone wrong in earlier time zones.
Morning commuters are in a state of high agitation. They have a day to face. When a morning commuter sends a text while behind the wheel, it's work-related. It doesn't matter that none of the texts or calls people send during their morning commute achieve anything. They're all of the "on my way" variety. You don't need them. Put it this way: They organized the D-Day landing without sending a single text. Still, these precarious driving habits make commuters feel as if they're doing something and that's just as important.
Morning drivers are hyped on caffeine and ambition. They're anxious and, in a desperate bid to settle this panic, they perform dangerous driving manoeuvres. It's all about getting to work a few minutes early or at least on time. Frequent tricks include: running red lights, excessive lane changes and perilous U-turns to avoid massive traffic jams caused by construction. It's like a death row prisoner skipping dessert because he wants to get right to the execution.
Once the day is done, it's time to go back. Though he was on his own in the morning, the afternoon commuter is never alone. He always has a passenger and that passenger is his failed hopes and dreams. All the stuff he was going to accomplish that day? He either didn't or he did and the result was that his boss gave him more work to do. And if he's the boss? He hasn't left the office yet. The CEO is staring into the darkness remembering how much fun he had that one summer during college when he worked painting houses.
The afternoon commuter risks death behind the wheel by texting home to tell loved ones he is on his way (before cellphones people just assumed loved ones would return everyday). The demons he faced at work, coupled with the ones he might face at home, make him capable of driving stunts so potentially lethal that bulked together they could be bound and sold as Stephen King's follow-up to Christine. Unlike the morning rush, these don't spring from anxiety but from a smothering depression. What was it Camus once said? "One day we're all going to die. And now we're stuck in traffic."
Yet there are some afternooners who are in states of extreme agitation. These are the parents who are madly speeding to pick up their kids before 6 p.m. Why? At that magic hour, daycare (which is already exorbitant) starts costing $1 a minute. So 20 minutes can cost you $20 and mom has to double down on the fast food she now has to buy because it's so late. Of course, the monetary cost is nothing compared to the humiliation she endures for picking up her brood at 6:17 p.m. What kind of mother is late getting her children? Oh, the shame.
So which commute is worse? The morning rush or the afternoon slog? It's like being offered a choice between hanging and drowning. Between chewing glass or hammering a nail through your hand. Between falling off a cliff or being eaten by piranha. Probably the only truly tempting commute would be from comfy bed to living room couch.
But hey, look on the bright side: We don't have to choose. No matter which you prefer – morning or afternoon – you have to do both anyway.
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