Commuter Survival Guide
Whether you drive or take the train, getting to and from work is stressful. Heed these tips and you might stave
off a few gray hairs
by David Levine
Many companies now offer “flex” time, allowing you to alter your schedule to fit your lifestyle. That includes commuting. Arrange a schedule with your employer so you can work nontraditional hours: 8 to 4, say, or 10 to 6. That way you can hit the roads before or after rush hours and avoid the madness.
Rage, Rage Against the Driving on the Right
Actually, don’t. (We just wanted to make a cute Dylan Thomas pun.) Don’t let the traffic or the maniacs on the road push your buttons.
“The reason we get so angry is that we are in a situation where we have no control,” says Gail W. Barrack, ACSW, a counselor based in New Windsor, Orange County. “We feel that people are driving a certain way to â€˜get us.’ We know intellectually this is not true, but when we feel that people are doing something to us personally, we want to react, and it becomes frustrating when we can’t.”
It’s important, she says, to remember that worrying about traffic or crazy drivers won’t change traffic or crazy drivers. “Accept that it is not within your control, but know that keeping the anxiety from upsetting you is in your control,” she says.
To do that, Barrack suggests some guided imagery techniques — with one caveat. “Most guided-imagery exercises require you to close your eyes, which is not a good idea when driving,” she says. “But you can use some imagery. Picture your frustration as steam of some sort, and imagine you are pushing it out of your ears like they did in the old cartoons. Or picture that you can shake your hand at the traffic and bits of fire shoot out, like you’re an X-Man character.”
When that fails, there’s another surefire way to vent. “Scream,” Barrack says. “As long as the windows are closed, a person letting out a healthy scream looks like they are singing, to anyone passing by.”
The Great Escape
If you drive one particular highway regularly, familiarize yourself with the back roads. Learn the escape routes to get around trouble spots where traffic regularly halts because of accidents or congestion. A detailed map is crucial (you can get free maps with your AAA membership), especially if you’re carpooling. Don’t let Ed talk you into taking the next left because he thinks it dumps onto Rte. 9. Ed’s an idiot.
Who Has Time to Cook?
You don’t. Others do. For a fee, of course. But it can be money well spent. “Personal chefs are perfect for busy working couples who love good food but don’t have time to cook,” says Jonathan Taube. He’s one of the many Hudson Valley-based chefs who will come to your home, whip up a week or two’s worth of good eats, and pack them in your freezer with detailed reheating and serving instructions. For quick and easy — and tasty and healthy — post-commute meals, you can’t beat it.
The fee starts at $55 to $65 an hour plus the cost of the groceries, says Taube, who figures he needs seven to eight hours to cook five entrÃ©es that will serve four people.
Other chefs will let you order off-the-shelf gourmet pick-up meals rather than come to your home. Some even deliver. This option is cheaper, but more difficult to customize.
A few chefs to choose from:
Jonathan Taube 845-216-4535; www.nypersonalchefs.com. Specialities: Asian/fusion/Southwest cooking. Serves Westchester and Putnam counties.
Lagusta Yearwood 845-255-8VEG; www.lagustasluscious.com. Specialties: Vegetarian, organic. Willing to barter. Free delivery to New Paltz and immediate vicinity. Deliveries possible to locations in Ulster, Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties.
Roni Shapiro 845-339-7171 or 914-388-2162; www.carrottalk.com. Specialties: organic, vegan, macrobiotic, kosher. “Bag of Specials” (6-8 meals) for $93.50 includes tax and delivery in Westchester and Ulster counties.
Phyllis Segura 845-365-0042; www.cookingontheriver.com. Specialties: Buy 12 months of meals, get the last month free. Serves the lower Hudson Valley.
Who Has Time to Cook or Money for a Personal Chef?
Some of the regional train stations have nice places to pick up prepared foods. Place your order from the train, grab it at the station, let the mouthwatering smells help you unwind on the drive home.
Flying Pig Farm Market CafÃ©, Mt. Kisco station. 914-MOO-PIG5; www.pigcafe.com
Homeward Bound, Poughkeepsie station. 845-485-8668; www.homewardboundtogo.com
The Boy Scouts are right: the more prepared you are, the better off you’ll be if trouble arises. Brookstone carries a swell roadside auto emergency kit that includes jumper cables, air compressor, 28-piece first-aid kit, emergency light, reflector triangles, tire gauge, and some useful hand tools, all for $80. You can also purchase the 4-in-1 Jumpstarter with compressor to fill your tires, revive your battery, and charge your cell phone, for $129.95. Mechanic sold separately
Support Your Local Artists
Listen to CDs and books on tape by local musicians and authors, such as Natalie Merchant, Dave Holland, Graham Parker, and William Kennedy.
Earn Karma Points for Your Next Life
Drive a hybrid car. Sure, they get great mileage and lower your gasoline bills. “But it’s not about gas mileage,” says Stu Berkley, general manager of Middletown Honda. “It’s about leaving your kids air they can breathe in 20 years. You should buy a hybrid because you care about the environment, because you think â€˜I’m a big polluter, and I need to be less of a polluter.’ The mileage is just a bonus.”
It’s a real bonus, though. You’ll get at least 20 to 30 percent better mileage, Berkley says. And hybrids are surprisingly zippy, so highway commuters need not worry about jumping into traffic from the on-ramp. The battery self-charges while you drive, so the notion that you have to “plug it in” every night is untrue. (Kudos to Brewster North train station for offering hookups for electric cars, just in case.)
Fill ’er Up, Visit the Rest Room, Buy Some Broccoli
Do all three at the New Baltimore rest stop between exits 21A and 21B of the New York State Thruway. Local farmers peddle their fresh fruits and veggies at the only farmer’s market we know of with a 65 mph speed limit. Daily, June through October, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 518-622-9820 for details.
This One Goes Out to Donna, with Hugs
We tend to agree with Elvis Costello: “The radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel.” He sang that almost 30 years ago, and it’s only gotten worse since. Still, there are a few radio stations out there that can help pass the travel time.
1. WKZE, for grown-up rock.
2. WDST, for creative mixes.
3. Northeast Public Radio (WMHT/ WAMK/WOSR), for Alan Chartock and the gang.
This One Goes Out to Lesbians, Midgets, and Porn Stars, from Howard
You miss him. You didn’t think you would, but your commute isâ€¦diminished without him. It’s okay. Go ahead. Get Sirius Satellite Radio. Howard Stern will help you get to work with a smile again.
Use your commuting time as exercise time.
Yes, you can do stretching and strength exercises on the train, bus, and backseat of your ride. Some can even be done as you drive. Just be really, really careful — crashing will do nothing for your biceps.
Traffic Jam Aerobics (from www.carpages.co.uk)
Foot Roll: Take your shoes off and roll your feet into balls, then spread your toes out as wide as possible. Roll your feet from heels to toes on the floor, getting first the toes and then the heels up off the floor as high as possible to give the feet a good stretch.
Ankle Rotations: Still with your shoes off, lift your feet up off the floor as high as possible and circle each ankle five times in both a clockwise and counterclockwise direction.
Downward Foot Press: Press the balls of your feet down hard against the floor and raise your heels to increase the blood flow in your legs. Hold for five seconds and repeat 10 times.
Shoulder Rolls: Lift the shoulders up towards the ears, roll the shoulders backwards and then down in as big a circle as you can manage. This will help to release tension in the upper back and neck, so it’s especially good if you’re driving for long distances in stressful traffic.
Shoulder Press: (Not for the driver unless a traffic jam lets you put the car in park) Lift the arms to touch the car roof, take the arms outwards and back down, and repeat.
Elbow Circles: Place your fingertips on your shoulders and draw circles in the air with your elbows. Another great move to help release tension in the neck and upper back.
Super Stretches: Arch your back to wake up all the muscles around your mid-section that have probably been taking a good rest while you sit in the car. Now sit up straight and tighten your abdominal muscles. Take a small side stretch over to the left and right. Repeat 10 times.
Now point your toes to stretch the muscles at the front of the lower leg and bring your toes back toward you to stretch the calf at the back.
Car Yoga: The Backward Prayer stretches your chest and shoulders. Put your hands behind your back and place fingertips and then palms together. See if you can keep your palms together as you raise your hands further up your back in this classic yoga pose.
Planes, Trains, Automobilesâ€¦and Boats
Try commuting by water.
The Newburgh-Beacon Ferry. “The ferry/train combination is the fastest, most reliable way into the city, getting you to and from Grand Central Terminal in about 90 minutes,” claims Metro-North. The ferry is enclosed, has heating and air conditioning, and — best of all — is equipped with its own skipper, so you can relax and not worry about traffic.
Schedules and fares are available at this easy-to-remember Web site: www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mnr/html/raillink/newburghferry.htm.
The Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry. This ferry takes you from Haverstraw to the Metro-North station at Ossining and thence to Grand Central. Find schedules and fares at www.nywaterway.com/haverstraw_ossining.html.
For the Commuter Who Has Everything
For less than $300, purchase these gadgets (available at Brookstone) to help you drive in style and comfort.
1. TheraSpaâ„¢ 10-Motor Massaging Seat Topper. Get a rubdown while you drive by slipping this gizmo over your seat. It will almost make you wish your commute was longer ($99).
2. Silver Bulletâ„¢ Compact Radar Detector/Compass. The most high-tech — and legal — device for slowing down before the cops spot you ($179).
HELP! I Need Somebodyâ€¦
The NYS Department of Transportation runs the Highway Emergency Local Patrol (HELP), offering free roadside assistance for drivers stuck on major highways in the Capital Region and lower Valley. They’re primarily on the lookout during rush hours, ready to fix flats, recharge dead batteries, etc. Sit tight, and your savior will appear.
The Orange County Special
Joe Klapkowski is a 25-year commuting veteran who travels from his Highland Falls home to Manhattan. Like many Valley commuters, he was a slave to Metro-North’s Hudson Line. During the subway strike, he had to get from Grand Central to his office at Battery Park in southern Manhattan. First, he walked. Then he had his eureka moment.
“I found that New Jersey Transit runs trains for Metro-North on the old Erie-Lackawanna line between Port Jervis and Hoboken. The PATH train can take me from Hoboken downtown. Although my journey remains steady at two hours, I save $118 a month taking this train instead of Metro-North and the subway. Plus, I pick up some cardio work by walking 20 minutes from the PATH train to my office.”
He acknowledges this is a very geography-specific plan. “But for those of us in Orange County, it’s a pretty convenient way to go — and you don’t have to drive through the speed traps at Fort Montgomery.”
Support Your Local Government-Funded, Bankruptcy-Avoiding National Passenger Railway Service
In other words, take Amtrak, while they’re still in business. Trains stop in Yonkers, Croton, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, and Rensselaer.
Click Your Heels 3 Times And Sayâ€¦
There’s no place like a home office. Telecommuting, with your boss’s permission of course, is easier than you think. And even just one day a week at home adds up to savings on gas, tolls, train fares, and agita.
1. Ask your IT geek to set you up with remote access to your company servers. (If you don’t already have it, a high-speed Internet connection helps.)
2. Clear out a corner of your basement, convert part of the guest bedroom, or even empty that walk-in closet you only use for storage, and run your Internet cable to it.
3. Buy that cool rolltop desk you saw last time your spouse dragged you antiques shopping, or be frugal and set up your folding card table.
4. Depending on what you do, get the extra phone lines, file cabinets, and office supplies you need to do your job.
5. Work all day in your pajamas.