I’m awake, barely. I know it’s coming. I’m up because I’m a bit anxious. The alarm is about to go off at 5:30 AM and, like a good boy, I’ll get up. I’ll proceed to the bathroom, throw in some contact lenses, shower, brew some coffee and continue to get ready.
“Ugh. Not again…” I think to myself as I’m lying there comfortably in my bed.
And…there it is. Cue the music.
The alarm is going off. I have it set on some 80’s station that plays, not only the hits of the decade, but some other electronic tunes that I’ve never heard before. I dig it, but quickly shut it off. It gets annoying after a few seconds. It’s probably because I’m so irritable considering the circumstances.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I just know I have exhaustion written on my face.
I’m dreading what I’m about to go through.
This is how the day begins. Like many working Americans, there’s nothing too unique or special about this routine. Pretty normal. Sadly, there is a lot of dread in society when it comes to getting ready for the work day.
I was a cartoonist at an agency, but I had a challenge.
Once I hopped in my car, this is where the shit show began.
I had a four-hour commute.
Four hours — each way — five days a week.
Welcome to my hell.
How did this come about?
There are a few factors, as you’ll see.
First off, I was employed at an agency as an inhouse cartoonist on the westside of L.A. When I started working there, I lived close to it. Nice? Well…
Like most big cities, rent is high. Like, ridiculously high. I get it though: supply and demand. You have a big area that people want to live in, prices are hiked up. It’s always been the format. I won’t go into all of the economics of it, but that’s the way it goes.
So sure, I was close to work, but renting seemed like a waste (like, big waste). It was spending money every month for a two-bedroom place with thin walls. I had to live with irritating neighbors, bad parking (it was below the building and full of speed bumps) and no air conditioning in the back rooms. Not worth it. And that money for rent is gone.
I’ve rented my whole life, but at the rates around here…yikes.
It was time to buy a place. If I’m spending thousands a month, I want it to go towards a mortgage. Why not, right?
It’s not all about me though. I have a wife and a three-year old. We needed something cheaper and I also wouldn’t mind having a neighborhood that wasn’t so congested where I can actually take my daughter outside to teach her how to ride a bike and not a Bird scooter.
I love Los Angeles. Really, I do. It just realized it wasn’t practical for me to live in the midst of it with my family and income.
We looked everywhere for a home. NOTHING around work was in our budget.
Months and months later, we discovered that if you go just on the outskirts of town, real estate is obtainable. Not only that, it’s lovely. New. Open skies and mountains. It’s really something.
We looked. We found a home.
It’s amazing. It’s affordable. It’s in a great location.
…it’s 90-miles away from where I work.
That leads to quite the predicament.
Do we buy this awesome home that’s miles from work, or stay close to the office and keep renting?
My mind was bouncing like a ping pong ball. “That is a stupid idea. I’m employed and I can’t live that far out! But the home. Aa, that home. It’s something. I love the location. BUT WORK! BUT HOME! How about renting again? In a place without thin walls? But…but…Aaaaaghh!”
I eventually reeled in my thoughts. Along with the help of my family, I narrowed it down. We wanted that house. So…
Could I pull this off? Can I commute this far? Maybe?
The thing is, I LOVE a good road trip. This could be fun!
Without any further details, yeah, we bought the home. If you know anything about purchasing property, it takes a while, so I was able to slowly prepare for the commute as long as possible. Although, there’s nothing you can really prepare for. I just cherished being close to work while I was, knowing that this wouldn’t be the case soon.
We then moved. I took a few days off to get the moving van unloaded and settled in a bit. But then, the time had come. My first day back to work.
Let the commute commence.
The first couple of weeks I took everything in stride.
Traffic jam? Eh. No biggie.
Near collision? Happens.
Tired. Barely keeping eyes open? Okay, I need to work on that.
I would put a smile on my face and say, “Aa, it wasn’t THAT bad…” as I exited the car shaking.
There are just so many awful parts about a 90-mile commute. I started to realize the parts I thought weren’t horrible were. They don’t end. There’s never a day of smooth sailing into work.
Stop-and-go traffic in the passing lane. (How does that even happen? I get congestion, but does someone way up there actually stop in the passing lane?)
Horns. Lots and lots of horns.
Turn signals not used.
Turn signals used, but no follow through. (I try to let them over, but they don’t get over. Why? WHY?)
Road construction where there is no visible construction.
The guy that is in a huge hurry and thinks he can get through the bumper-to-bumper traffic but can’t. That guy is annoying.
Being cut-off for no reason. Thanks.
It goes on…
A part of me would die every time my Google GPS would announce, “30-minute slowdown ahead. You are still on the fastest route.”
A constant battle.
What made all of this worse was the exhaustion. You HAVE to be alert driving around here. There’s no other option. I mean, not like there is anywhere when it comes to driving, but really, you have to be extra “on it” in SoCal.
Every day was a long road trip.
It took coffee. Lots of coffee.
Sometimes my GPS would take me off the most direct routes into scary territory. It was almost as if it was toying with me.
Once in a while I would try backroads. The backroads provided some time saving options, but then it also required thinking. When I stay on the interstate, I’m a mindless zombie. Stop-and-go is just numbing, but it doesn’t require much thought. “Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Brrrraaaainnns.” The interstate was my comfort zone.
And gas stations. God, there were a lot of fill-ups. The Shell station was my new hangout.
I’d be sore, my feet had blisters from the constant accelerating and breaking. My back hurt.
I felt unhealthy. There’s no time to work out in a gym when you’re on the road for almost six hours a day and then working at an agency for nine. I thought a heart attack could end it all at some point. That, or possibly getting wrapped around a telephone pole.
On a typical day, after about four hours, I finally roll into work. Tired, cranky and just wanted a pillow and to nap. But no. I have a full day ahead of me. A full day of where I’m paid to be creative. Creativity and exhaustion, at least for me, don’t mix well.
Suffice to say, I was a miserable wreck.
I would take my lunch break at the library a few blocks away. Why? Nap. I would go there and nap. I tried to be discrete about it by getting a magazine and acting like I’m reading it by propping it up on my leg. Meanwhile, my eyes were shut as I tried to doze off.
Somehow, I would wake up and stroll back into the office.
The afternoon continues…
Cut to the end of the day. It’s 6 PM. Time to go.
The battle begins again. This time, in the opposite direction.
I try to relax. I contemplate everything. Then, a little voice comes along in my head.
“What are you doing, buddy? You know, you don’t have to keep living this way.”
I had to eventually listen to it.
“But, I DO, right? I’ve got a job to do. I have to drive to get there. I have a mortgage. I…”
I kept this up for about two months. It was the limit to what I could handle.
I had to quit my job.
The house trumped employment and remote working, for them, wasn’t an option.
I have always enjoyed working independently. I decided it was time to go back on my own and work freelance out of my new studio. My commute is over.
I think I figured out why I did what I did. Sure, we wanted a home and a nicer neighborhood for my daughter. Then that affordability thing. But there was more to it.
Deep down, I knew I wanted change with my work. I think subconsciously, I was looking for an “out.”
Desperately needing a good excuse to switch-up my life.
I found that moving far from the office forced me to change. If I were to stay renting in west L.A., I probably wouldn’t have taken the plunge and left the agency anytime soon where I had a comfortable paycheck. I’m not a bird that can be easily caged from 9–6, so the decision to move felt right. It FORCED change.
And so here I am. A cartoonist in my own studio at my own home.
At the end of the day, the commute was a good thing. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without it. I think in life, we need to go with our instinct (by the way, that’s the little voice in your head). I know I do. I don’t always at first, but instinct is a persistent bastard. I’ve learned to listen.
Buying the home, it made my decision crystal clear after a couple of months. Yes, it’s time to move on away from your job and get on with what I wanted to do. Plus, I love the area, home and it’s a great setup. This change was needed.
My opinion? Life is way too short to be stuck in traffic jams.
I feel relaxed. Alive. I’m not battling the masses four hours to work and three hours back (heading home wasn’t quite as lengthy timewise).
I’m not as sore. I can function unlike a zombie. I’m back!
I set my alarm for 5:30 still. I’m not as quick to shut it off. Sure, it still can be irritating (those electronic keyboards…yikes), but I have comfort in knowing that I’m not preparing for the streets in Los Angeles.
I can relax a bit, wake up and — if I get cut-off on my commute — it’s probably my cat walking in front of me.