Posts Tagged ‘commuting’


why i don’t like my job

November 30, 2011

As any of you playing along at home know, I recently started a new job.  My title is bland and non-descriptive (I’m a “University Program Specialist”), but the gist of it is that I educate people about alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technology, so that they can clean up their act.

Lots of folks are puzzled about why I don’t like this job (“it sounds right up your alley!”), and they kindly remind me that I was excited about it a few months ago.  Fair enough.  I’m here to enlighten you.

Why don’t I like my job?

  1. I don’t get paid enough.  Granted, I make more per hour than I have ever made before (technically untrue, if you assume that my grad stipend was paid out as an hourly wage for 50 40-hour work weeks a year, but we all know that’s not how many hours I worked), but it’s not enough to make me enjoy my job or to pay the bills without some severe penny-pinching.  This is made worse by the fact that there was a severe misunderstanding in the hiring process about how much money I’d be earning.  When I started this job, I thought I was making better than twice what I actually make.  Ouch.
  2. I don’t buy what I’m selling.  Because of our funding sources, “educating people about clean transportation” means telling them that we can clean up our air, slow down climate change, and solve our energy crisis just by using alternative fuels and new vehicle technologies.  We have lots of slides at the ends of powerpoint presentations that say “there is no silver bullet,” but what we mean is “we need to apply all of these technologies to solve our problems and then we’re fine.”  New technologies are a band-aid, in my opinion, and we won’t get anywhere without just plain driving less.  It constantly grates at me to be writing copy that says otherwise.
  3. I am either preaching to the choir or shouting into the void.  Our audience consists of people who drink the kool-aid (environmentalists through consumption, who like buying new things to fix problems caused by using too many things), people who make the damn kool-aid (the companies who manufacture and distribute this stuff), and people who are suspicious of the kool-aid because they think kool-aid is a liberal conspiracy (small-town fleet managers).  I don’t feel like I get much done.
  4. The work environment is as silent as a cathedral  (only without windows), so I actually don’t get much done.  The newsroom noise this summer ruined me forever, and now I can only be productive if there’s some kind of low-level chatter in the background and people to chat with every so often.  My office mate likes quiet, and there’s little interoffice visiting that seems to happen.  This week I have been making progress with the NPR-low-in-one-earbud strategy, but it’s less than ideal.  I don’t like NPR that much.  Some days I get more done on the bus than in the office.
  5. As previously mentioned, the commute sucks.  Also, only one other member of the group I work with — the clean transportation group, mind you — takes the bus.  One does, however, own a Prius, and the others “drive efficient cars.”  This does not console me.  Let’s be fully honest here about my bus-taking motives, though.  I don’t do it out of the fuzzy green goodness of my heart.  I do it because I can’t actually afford the gas.  Reference item #1.
  6. My second job, as a freelance writer, is much more awesome.  Therefore, in my deluded brain, every hour I’m at this job is an hour in which I could be writing sciencey things.  My brain does a poor job factoring in how much harder it would be to get by if I were writing full-time with the limited contacts and clips I have, so for now, my brain gets told to stuff it.  It still whines, though.

So there you have it.  I am not a fan.  It’s only 6 months, though, at which point I will have hopefully found a job I really like, have made enough contacts to pay bills by writing full-time, or the partner will have found a job he really likes.  Let’s hope.


open letters: friday commute edition

November 18, 2011

Dear person next to me on the bus,

Despite what you are texting to your friend, “the white lady” next to you — me, that is — does not, in fact, “think you are contagious or something.”

Have you never ridden a bus before?  It is generally considered polite to stay out of a seat mate’s personal space as much as is feasible.  When one’s seat mate is large or is rudely taking up more than half of the bench — like you are, for instance — that sometimes involves hanging out into the aisle a bit.

Also, let’s do a reality check here.  If I am close enough to unintentionally see your text messages, I’m not treating you like you’re contagious.  Choosing to stand instead of occupying the half-seat worth of space you left me (asshole) would be treating you like you’re contagious.

While I am sorry that you apparently have reason to think professionally-dressed white women would treat you like you’re contagious, I am nonetheless offended that you assume it.  And I’m especially offended that you wouldn’t scoot over further on a packed bus.

Kindly go to hell, Lady Quantum


Dear TTA,

When a bus is scheduled for 4:27 p.m., it’s generally polite for the bus to arrive within a 15 minute window of 4:27 p.m.

Or to arrive at all.

Because nobody is happy when two buses’ worth of rush-hour commuters are packed onto one bus.  Especially not my surly seat mate, it would seem.

My sincere thanks for a miserable commute, Lady Quantum


Dear Dook,

I understand that you regularly schedule athletic events, and that sometimes these events necessitate the closure of campus roads.

Major crosstown thoroughfares are not campus roads.  Please do not park your little flashing-light parking truck in the middle of the motherfucking road, and especially do not yell at me for pulling a u-turn when I come up against your little flashing-light parking truck.  Where the fuck was I supposed to go?  Into your parking lot?  Go to hell.

Further, your traffic signs that are designed to warn unsuspecting drivers of upcoming events and direct traffic have been stuck on “IRON DUKES PASS SECOND LEFT” for a month.  This is extremely unhelpful.

I wish you a thousand defeats.  I would wish them anyway, but now I’m doing it more vehemently.

Please fuck off and die, Lady Quantum


Dear drivers of Durham,

The speed limit on NC 751 is 55 mph, not 35 mph.  Please observe it, because some of us have been trying to get home for more than two hours and are really fucking pissed.

Have a terrible weekend, Lady Quantum


opportunity cost, or, bus vs. car part two

November 4, 2011

I just wrote this in a comment response, but then it occurred to me that it’s a) supremely long, and b) somewhat useful.  Here’s some opportunity cost math about my commute.

One way, door-to-door in light traffic, driving takes 45 minutes, assuming I can find a parking spot that doesn’t require a permit across the street from my office (typically — but not always — a valid assumption). It also assumes that there’s no fiery accident on I-40, which is not a very good assumption really.

One way, door-to-door right now, the bus takes 1 hour, 20 minutes, assuming again I can find a parking spot without a permit at the park-and-ride (true if I arrive for the 7:40am bus) and that I walk the mile from the stop to my office. I am planning on parking a shitty bike (<$30) at the stop and using it to get back and forth, as soon as I have time to buy one. This should cut it to 1 hour, 5 minutes.

So, this week, taking the bus was 35 minutes longer one way. If I spent all of that time working for my miserably low-paid (but with benefits!) job, I would make $8.75, or an extra $17.50 a day. If I spent that time writing freelance science articles, I could make something ranging from $0 to about $40 every day. Clearly, the economics of driving win here.

But what all of this ignores is that on the bus, I actually do have about 35 minutes in which I could be doing useful work (assuming it’s not a wifi bus and I spent that time reading comics on the internet). On Wednesday, I used it productively in the morning, but the rest of the week I was just reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw” and learning about ketchup and creative genius and the guy who invented birth control (awesome read). Anyway, if I were motivated, I could easily make up the lost time by being useful, and after I get a bike, if I’m useful I’ll actually be gaining 15 minutes of productive time every day by riding the bus.

Another thing this opportunity cost calculation ignores is that I only depart my house at 7:15am if I’m taking the bus. If I’m driving, I use that extra 35 minutes to hit snooze three times because I forgot to reset my alarm clock from when I took the bus the day before. So it’s not even sleep that’s worth anything except the comfort of lingering half-awake in warm blankets.

But mostly, what all of this means for certain is that I need a job closer to home.  Sigh.


scary fact of the day

November 2, 2011

I used to complain about public transit being doubly cost ineffective.  The fees charged to riders didn’t do much to support the cost of running the buses, but the fees were still more expensive than the equivalent gasoline cost, assuming a rider had a car that has pretty standard fuel efficiency.

Guess what?  My commute is now cheaper if I take the bus, even if I were to pay full fare instead of using my employer-sponsored bus pass.

Here’s the math.  These calculations assume I paid $3.39/gallon in gas (the price I last paid at the pump), and that I was getting 31 mpg (my usual mileage in my ’96 Camry).

  • Driving, my commute is 30.9 miles each way.  That’s 2 x (30.9 miles x $3.39 per gallon ÷ 31 mpg), a total cost of $6.76 every day.
  • Using the park-and-ride, I drive 6.4 miles from my house to the bus station.  I walk or bike from the stop to my office.  That’s 2 x ($2.50 in bus fare + 6.4 miles x $3.39 per gallon ÷ 31 mpg), a total cost of $6.40 every day.
  • Because my employer pays for my bus pass, the park-and-ride’s actual cost to me is $1.40 every day.
  • Or, because I like working in differences, riding the bus saves me $5.36 every single day.  That’s $26.80 a week, or $107.20 every month.  Over the course of the six months this job lasts (ah, grant funded positions), riding the bus has the potential to save me almost $650.
  • Even if I carpooled with one other person (I drove every other day), and even if I assume I didn’t have to drive out of my way at all to do so, riding the bus would still be almost $3 cheaper per day.  Insanity.

Yay simple math.  I was inspired to take a break from reading lots of transportation statistics and cost-benefit fact sheets and run the numbers (my new job is doing some education and outreach for a clean transportation group, so I’m spending a lot of time familiarizing myself with our existing literature).  Perhaps I’ll be back later with the more complex emissions comparison, if I feel inspired.