#675: Notes from the Commute

August 19th, 2016

For the last several months, I’ve been going to baseball practice.

Each Tuesday night, I would hop in the closest available Enterprise Car Share car and take off for the suburbs, where a friend who coaches Little League prepped me for throwing out the first pitch at a Kane County Cougars game.

The coaching was needed, as most of my childhood was spent talking about dinosaurs and trying to convince my parents that reading a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel in my room was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a summer day.

The pitch was last night. Quick verdict: Passable enough to be ignored by the crowd on dollar beer night.

But now the commute is done. No more hopping in rush hour traffic. No more subjecting myself to the vocal onanism of self-amused local radio DJs.

No more light curses when startled by a guy in a T-shirt zaggling through traffic on a crotch rocket motorcycle.

My commuter summer is over. Here are a few things I learned:

Radio isn’t terrible enough to turn off

Since I would use one of several car share cars in my travels, I wasn’t able to just chuck a thing of CDs in there to be used as needed.

For my younger readers, CDs were like little drink coasters made for embarrassing yourself with your past musical taste. You pop an unmarked disc in a CD player, hear a mix you ripped off Napster and say “Oh god… Reel Big Fish” to an empty room.

So I would listen to the radio.

The two main flavors of radio stations are (1) music and (2) a litany of all the planet’s woes, atrocities and Trump speeches, also known as NPR.

The trouble with NPR is that it doesn’t stop. It’s brilliant and incisive in small doses, but then you realize you went straight from genocide to plague to pollution to crime to corruption to, and I cannot stress this part enough, Donald Trump and it hasn’t been six minutes yet.

Six minutes, incidentally, is the typical amount of time a music station will play music before launching into an 80-minute rock block of fast food and local car dealership commercials.

Called the Zeppelin/Rorhman ratio, this formula for calculating airtime was designed by the high cabal of radio as half of a strategy to ensure no one likes radio (the other half is Mancow). I’m pretty sure after minute eight of commercials they start broadcasting instructions to undercover NSA agents because no normal person has gone that long without changing the station.

But music is good, when they play it. News is important, when I can handle it.

What’s the other option, though? Silence with my thoughts?

By the end, I was listening to a lot of Spanish-language stations and Christian talk radio. Both are so alien to me they’re easy to tune out.

Fast food works as advertised

There is a reason fast food exists. And many a time after a long practice, I would indulge on the way back home.

It’s designed to be convenience, hunger-sating and, yes, delicious.

No, I’m not putting McDonald’s disturbingly colored hamburgers (meat’s not gray, Ronald) on the deliciousness scale of a fine kabob or fresh grilled salmon, but our caveman bodies do crave fat and salt and apparently sesame seed buns. Fast food was designed by very clever people in lab coats to tick off all those boxes.

I’ve gained five pounds and the other day I actually said “Ooh, Long John Silver’s.” I must be stopped.

It’s dehumanizing in the purest sense

I started thinking of the cars as other people. Like seriously. I would mumble to myself “God, what’s that jerk doing?” not really separating the person from the vehicle.

I realize this sounds insane, calling cars jerks and thinking of people as vehicles, but we all do it. “This guy,” meaning a Mitsubishi that just cut you off. “What an idiot!” to a Mazda. It’s a small, meaningless mental shortcut that happened to disturb me quite a bit.

I’m writing this story a bit late, getting ready to hop on a train. There are difficulties and frustrations there too (so much so that I made a video game about them), but at least one thing is true there.

When I call someone a jerk, idiot or less printable words, I’m doing it to a person, not a Chevy.

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