Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 91 for the eighth time in four days, I passed the time by working out the physics of running myself over with my own car.
It was a matter of distance, time and velocity: I’d need to put enough of a gap between myself and the truck ahead of me to allow me enough time to jump out, throw myself under my car’s left front tire, and allow velocity to take care of the rest. The problem, though, was that in my present gridlocked circumstance, Newtonian physics didn’t apply. An object at rest crosses no distance, makes no time, and has a velocity of zero. I might squeeze myself between the front and back bumper to get beneath the tire, but once there, I was more likely to die of boredom than a squishing head wound.
Indeed, death seemed like the only escape. I called one of my staff and ran the suicide-by-own-car idea by him. “If that doesn’t work, I could redirect the exhaust into the passenger compartment,” I added.
“Well, as plans go, this isn’t too bad,” he said. “Have you run this by David?”
When I called my husband, I lost my mind.
“I’ve been on this fucking freeway for two goddamn hours! Do you know how far we’ve gone in that time? No, you don’t know, because you work from home, you sniveling fuck! You have a 15-foot commute! I’ve gone three miles, that’s how far I’ve gone! I’m hungry and I have to pee! I hate you! I hate all these people and I wish to fuck I knew why this freeway is always like this!”
Other husbands—and I’ve been married to several of those husbands—would have yelled back. The entire thing would have devolved into one of those fights where breakable objects get thrown, followed by weeks of hostile silence. It would have been mentioned in future fights, and it would have been mentioned in all future fights as “That time you lost your fucking mind in the car, bitch!”
This husband, however, is a really good guy. He heard my suicide plan for what it was—a cry for help. And he offered all he had:
“Baby, you have to take the train.”
I’m an educated, white-collar professional businesswoman with a staff of 10 people, so I did the professional thing: I started crying. “I can’t keep doing this,” I sniffled.
Much later that day, I strongly suggested my staff work out some sort of carpool thing to get me to and from the Irvine train station and our workplace in Lake Forest, “if you value my sanity, and you should. I’ll be at the station at 8:40 tomorrow morning.” After all, it was performance review time.
I’d like to tell you my life since has become a basket of Metrolink-fueled joy. That I sit in a train full of happy, singing train commuters from Riverside to Irvine. That brave and strong men drive the train, and wise and true men take our tickets. That throngs of strangers stand by the tracks to salute us blissful travelers as we pass through their small towns. That my employer pays some or all of my monthly train ticket to share the tax break they get by reporting that I take mass transit. I’d like to tell you many stories about the lovely people I meet and the camaraderie I feel with them as we glide along the steel tracks, confident in our OC wage earning power.
But these would be lies.
What really happens is, now I get up at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5. I have to be in the shower at 6:15 to be out the door at 7 to make the 7:26 train. Could I make the 6:20 train? Probably. But I don’t move fast in the morning. I need a pot of coffee to get moving. An object at rest has a velocity of zero until it’s had enough coffee.
When I get on the train, I pull out my laptop and start working for my employer, or writing articles, like I’m doing right now. My employer loves that I’m taking the train because it’s added another 2.5 hours of work to my day. “You need that tomorrow?” I now say. “No problem—I’ll do it on the train on the way home.”
I meet lovely fellow travelers, even if I don’t want to, and I don’t want to. I’m not big on forced intimacy with strangers. All we have in common is that we’re going to roughly the same place (although, to be fair, I’ve married men with less in common). But everyone is perfectly comfortable reading my computer screen and then commenting on what I’m writing.
“What are you writing?”
“A performance review for one of my staff.”
“Wow, that person isn’t getting a good review, are they?”
“No. They refused to pick me up at the train station last week. That lack of cooperation bears mentioning.”
“Is that part of their job?”
“It is now.”
Meeting these people is better than listening to them, though. Cell phones are a popular way to pass the time. When they’re done reading my computer screen, they call a friend.
“Hey, I’m on the train . . . WHAT? . . . I’M ON THE TRAIN . . . WHAT? . . . THE TRAIN . . . NO, THE TRAIN . . . HELLO? . . . I THOUGHT I LOST YOU . . . I’M GOING HOME . . . ALMOST TO SANTA ANA . . . WHAT? . . . SANTA ANA . . . YEAH . . . SANTA ANA . . . HELLO? . . . I COLORED MY HAIR . . . NO, MY HAIR . . . IT’S RED, WELL, NOT RED, MORE LIKE BURGANDY WITH HIGHLIGHTS . . . HELLO? . . . I THOUGHT I LOST YOU . . .”
When my husband or one of my staff calls my cell, I whisper into it as though I’m new to the Witness Protection Program and not sure yet who I can trust. I’m trying to set a good example for the woman who’s been shouting into her phone for the last 20 minutes, but she’s oblivious, and I can’t hear a thing anyone is saying on the other end.
I pay $233.50 for my monthly pass to enjoy train cars that smell like overflowing toilets. Today, for example, it appears a car ahead of us has a sewer problem, and the speed of the train is pushing the smell into our car. Or at least, that’s the rumor. Whatever the problem, it smells like shit, my eyes are burning, and we have another 60 minutes to go. I could fart like a wild woman and no one would ever know.
No matter what I’m doing or hearing or smelling, I watch the 91. Downtown Riverside to Anaheim Canyon, I compulsively look at the freeway. An addict who can’t give up the freeway (even though I’m not using it anymore), I need to see it backed up, locked solid, totally unmoving. I’m especially excited about the stretch of road east of the 241 toll road, because, for the last two years, I’ve spent hours trying to get on or off the 241.
Yet even though the train has a hunk of negatives, when I see the 91 traffic just sitting there—when it’s clear no one has moved a mile in the last hour, when I know that people are plotting creative ways to kill themselves—I’m happy. It’s the best part of my day.