Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The mere act of people getting to their places of employment has evolved over time. The "commute" can now be almost as daunting as the actual job itself.

During the post-war period, people who found themselves going to a job felt fortunate. Many lived close enough to their work place that they actually walked! Living in a small town, several people that my family knew used their own feet to reach the store/building where they worked. At the time many families got along with only one car and if that car was otherwise occupied, there were few alternatives left. Workers could "car pool," an option if two or more workers held jobs in the same area. Even our small town had a bus service which could pick up and deliver riders for a few cents.

As the economy boomed and an increasing number of families needed a second car, people began to drive a greater distance to work. They were fortunate if this did not involve many miles and parking was provided. In cities, there was often a toll or parking fee involved. But such constraints were the first indication of how much compromise workers were willing to tolerate to find and secure work.

Times have changed.

In the 1970s and 1980s, I drove to work, jobs that I really enjoyed. The pay was good and I was able to buy a new car for reliable, comfortable driving. The drive was through a lovely area with good streets for a total of about 8 miles. Gasoline was less than $1 a gallon at its peak -- an estimate on my part, but that seems about right. It was high enough to be noticeable but not high enough to induce cardiac arrest.

A few years later saw me moving to the Eastern U.S. where I grew to appreciate the luxury of mass transit. Traveling this way was an expensive endeavor but I continued to make the "big bucks" and was not concerned. It was another chapter in compromise. My life centered around work and the hassle of getting there was just part of the deal.

I remained on the East Coast for eight years and once figured that one full year of that time was spent in merely getting to and from work. A rather insignificant amount of time compared to others who have lived there for decades. But nonetheless this amounted to one year lost forever to any other use.

Now as I near the fourth anniversary of my more-or-less fulltime retirement, I occasionally think I would like to work again, at least part-time. During the past few years, I have worked as various situations have arisen. I like work and the structure that makes me get up and keep moving. Old habits are rather hard to break.

But the most enticing work I have found -- even on a part-time basis -- would require driving to nearby towns. I have done that, too, but as the price of gasoline has increased, this is a less viable option. No amount of part-time pay is worth the hassle of driving an hour or more for a part-time job. It doesn't work out on paper. Commuting now puts a halt to my independence and flexible schedule. Topped off with gasoline nearing $4 a gallon, wear and tear on the car and perhaps a paid parking requirement, it doesn't make sense.

So I continue to look locally for a part-time position with flexibility that might actually be fun. I liked the fact that a work day partitioned my time into tidy compartments where my actions were dictated and achievements obvious.

One of the drawbacks of retirement: "What did I accomplish today?" is a little intimidating sometimes.

The first thing that I noticed when moving to the East Coast was how few people I encountered on a daily basis who appeared to be over 50. It was rare to see senior citizens on the street during working hours or on mass transit. At first, I thought perhaps they avoided being trampled during rush hour. That may have been true. But I also think that people with insight into the demands of city life have long since moved to the suburbs -- or farther away -- and are busily enjoying their newly tranquil lives.

I can appreciate that now.

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