Not long after starting my current job I gave up the fight against traffic. No more Waze, no more tricky alternate routes – I surrendered completely and accepted that I had become the stereotypical LA commuter, spending 45 minutes in the car every morning and over an hour getting home every night. Determined to use all this time in the car for some sort of constructive purpose, I stocked up on audio books and podcasts, but what I’m finding is that the only thing I really want to do when I’m alone in the car stuck in traffic is make running commentary on everything that’s pissing me off about other drivers.
“Oh, you’re just going to come to a complete stop before making that right turn? Nah, that’s cool, we’ll just wait right here behind you.”
“Merge at freeway speeds, dipshit! Come on! Amateur hour!”
“Go. Go. Go. Go-go-go-go-go-go-go-GO-GO-GO!”
“Let me- Let me- Let me pass. Come on. Come on. Let me pass. Come on. Come on. No, don’t- Seriously? Fuck you, pal! Fuck you!”
Still, it’s good as a kind of cheap therapy – I can spend an hour and a half every day getting the griping out of my system when there’s nobody around to hear it. Whatever’s left after that goes on the blog. I was getting used to this arrangement when traffic, perhaps unaware that I had surrendered, went on the offensive again.
School just started in LA, which, like the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, has taken something I didn’t think could possibly be any worse and proved me wrong. The intersection of the two freeways I use to get to work every morning is already famous for being the most congested patch of freeway in America. Now that hundreds of thousands of kids are being taken to and from schools all along this route, each morning and afternoon it ceases to be a freeway and exists only as a warning to other cultures, a ghost story urban planners tell their children, a monument to man’s arrogance.
Now, on a good day, my commute to work takes close to an hour and a half, and my commute home has been edging pretty close to two hours. And all I can think about when I sit in traffic is that the duration of a one way trip to or from work is equal to or longer than most movies. It takes me longer to get to work in the morning than it takes the boys in Stand By Me to find that kid’s body and learn important lessons about manhood. My drive home takes as long as the entire saga of Max, Furiosa, and Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road – but although it has cars, roads, and ample fury on my part, my commute is considerably less interesting.
Everything else about my job is downright pleasant at the moment, except that getting to and from it takes 15 to 20 hours of every week. About the time I realized that my weekly commute was the same time commitment as a part-time job without the pay, I knew that something was going to have to change. But because I can’t work from home and I can’t in good conscience quit, my list of “Things I Can Realistically Change” was pretty short.
Recently, though, I had an epiphany. For most of my career I’ve made a point of bolting out of whatever office I’m working in at the exact second I’m allowed to leave, because 1) fuck The Man and 2) I tell myself I need to get home and write, even if I just wind up zoning out in front of a Frasier episode I’ve already seen four times. Unfortunately, doing this at my current job means I get onto America’s most congested freeway right at 5:00, when traffic is as bad as can be.
But starting last week, instead of leaving the building at 5:00, I just leave my desk and take my laptop into a small, harshly lit, white walled auxiliary room down the hall from my cubicle, outfitted with a desk, a phone, and a hard chair. I then sit on the hard chair and write until the freeways clear out around 7:00.
It’s only been a week, but I’m pretty satisfied with the results so far. When I leave the office at 5:00, I usually get home pretty close to 7:00. When I leave at 7:00, I can be circling my block looking for a parking space by 7:45. Not only does this minimize my driving time and maximize my writing time, but I’ve also found that it’s a lot easier for me to get writing done in The White Room, where the only thing to distract me is a 10 year old landline phone and an occasional horrific industrial grinding sound from the adjacent elevator shaft.
Before The White Room, there were plenty of evenings where I’d get home from my massive commute and be too worn out for creativity. Now, even if I don’t do jack shit after getting back to my apartment and taking my pants off, I can feel less guilty because I put in a couple of hours writing at the office.
It’s still not an ideal arrangement. An ideal arrangement would be me getting paid to write scripts professionally, with my paychecks hand delivered by Alison Brie. But until I can work something like that out, The White Room has made an unbearable situation bearable. Plus, it’s reassuring to know that I’m still capable of doing good work in an environment where people expect me to wear pants.