The quirky joys of commuting (or why I want a car)

Yes, I want a car. I won’t deny it. There are countless tasks that would become orders of magnitude easier and less time consuming if I had a car. I would not have to make several trips to the grocery store each week, including traveling into Manhattan just to go to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Petco. I would not have to take taxis at night. I would not have to rent a zipcar to make a quick trip to IKEA. Notice I have not yet mentioned my primary commute from JC to New Brunswick. That is the longest haul of all and the most expensive. But it is not all bad. The truth is I like the train and this leaves me rather conflicted. I have become a regular on NJ Transit. I see many of the same people each day in both directions. There are the PATH train conductors in the evenings – the lady with the hat completely covered in pins and buttons, the gregarious man who flirts with the attractive redhead; there are the fellow Rutgers students in the mornings – the young man who was reading about New Orleans folklore, and even some of my students who commute from Newark. The young man at Zaro’s Newark Penn knows me and although I often cannot decipher what he says to me, he is very kind. There is a familiarity through all of this that I find comforting. It makes me feel like I belong. This is important to me. And yet…a car would make my life much easier.

The pros are straightforward. A car would cut my commute time in half. That’s right…in half. I spend approximately 1 hr 35 min (sometimes more) commuting in each direction at least 4 days per week, sometimes 5. That’s over 3 hours per day in transit. And it is not all on the train. About 70 minutes of that is usually spent walking. Sometimes I take the bus, but in general, it goes like this: approximately 17 minutes walk to the PATH from my house, 12 minutes on the PATH train to Newark, 25-40 minutes on NJ Transit to New Brunswick, 20 minutes walk to the Biological Sciences building (where my office is) from the train. Add in a few minutes of wait time for the trains and you’ve got quite a commute. Plus, I frequently stop for coffee and a bathroom break on the way to my office, which adds a few more minutes. Then I do it all backwards on the way home. If I get to Journal Square (in JC) after 9pm in the evening I will usually take a taxi to my house. That saves a few minutes. It looks like a lot when I write it all out. In fact it doesn’t feel as grueling as it appears. For example, I walk almost 4 miles a day, 4 days a week. I enjoy the walking most of the time. Gives me time to think. In addition, while it doesn’t exactly keep me in top shape, I think it keeps me from putting on weight. It helps me “maintain,” I suppose. On the other hand, if I drove, I might be able to swim two or three times a week, something I have struggled to keep in my schedule. Just to clarify the math, if I were to drive to school instead of taking public transit, I would save about 1 hr 35 minutes per day. As I said earlier, I would cut my commute in half. That adds up to about 6 hours per week. As wonderful as that sounds, it also concerns me. I am afraid that I will become lazy and fat. I’m not joking. I really am afraid of that. And yet, my exhaustion may win out over my fear. I believe I must find a way to buy a car.

There are also the truly pragmatic issues. Taking the train is my ONLY way of getting to school. Sometimes NJ Transit and PATH have mechanical problems, or like this morning, there are police “incidents.” Sometimes they are just late. The other night, I ended up waiting on the New Brunswick platform for an extra 30 minutes because of a delay. On top of the general inconvenience, it was late, I was sick, and they close the waiting area after 9pm, so I had to wait outside. I was not alone, but on nights like that I curse the fact that I do not own a car.

I’m in the market now for a used car. I have about $1000 that I can spend up front. I will try to save up another $1000 and buy something out-of-pocket. I don’t need more debt. I’ve found quite a few nice cars for that amount on cars.com. Insurance, gas and regular maintenance will run me about what I pay in monthly commuter fees. In the end, it just seems like the best way to go. I have some guilt about this. I have a low carbon footprint because I live in a major metropolitan area, and have not had a car since I was 19. I hate to contribute to our environmental problems and would love to get a hybrid. But I am a poor graduate student and I must take what I can get. So…if anyone has a car they want to unload, let me know.

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