There is No Such Thing as a Reverse Commute

Twenty-two years ago when I first came to the bay area, we were (apparently) in the midst of the worst economic downturn ever recorded outside of the depression years.  Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration.  But in 1991, as a recent college graduate, everyone told me that I would be *lucky* to find employment.  And I put little asterisks around the word *lucky* because that is exactly how people would say the word, with heavy emphasis and waving of hands, arms and other limbs when they stated *lucky*.

Despite all the naysayers, I did wind up gainfully employed (after a two month stint in Emoryville at a chocolate manufacturer) at a leasing company located in Burlingame.  I happened to live in San Francisco and was curious about my commute.  Having spent a couple of months braving the bay bridge and downtown San Francisco traffic – I had no experience with highway 101.  Or, as I now refer to it, the 101.  I have other names for the 101 that are more colorful but may include profanity, so I won’t share those here.  And before you add a comment that says only people from LA call it the 101; I know, I’m aware, and I’m still calling it the 101.

The important takeaway here is that all of my new acquaintances told me that traffic would be a breeze, because I was doing a reverse commute.  And in 1991, before most of those .coms and non-.coms had launched themselves and started building out property up and down the 101 corridor that was kind of a true statement.  But ladies, it is most certainly not the case today.  So don’t be fooled by those misguided but well-meaning individuals who tell you how *lucky* you are that you have a reverse commute, because you live in the city and drive to work on the peninsula or vice versa.  And if you are new to the area, and trying to figure out where best to set up your domestic headquarters, there are some things to consider before settling down.  In the end, you will need to decide what is more important to you – time spent in the car, or time spent living your life.  I do realize that this is a difficult decision (everyone in California LOVES their car) so here are some pointers to help guide you:

    1. Do you thrive on darkness?  You laugh, but this is an important question.  Because if you live somewhere in the east bay or even San Francisco and work in Silicon Valley (let’s say between Sunnyvale and San Jose), your commute will often start in the dark and end in the dark.  In case nobody told you, a typical work day in the world of high-tech could be 10-12 hours.  Heading to work at the crack of dawn usually guarantees a pretty good flow of traffic.  And at night, you need to look at leaving after 7pm when the car pool lanes open up.  This is going to be a really long day, so you better make sure that you are thrilled with this job!
    2. Are you a type A personality?  Do you find your blood pressure slowly increasing as you try to maneuver in stop and go traffic?  Do you get agitated because nothing is moving?  Is there a specific time limit, that if exceeded will push you into full-fledged road rage?  If so, I would think hard about that time limit and make sure that your worst case scenario (ie:  one hour commute) is tolerable.  I would be sure to locate my home within that one hour radius from the workplace.  This will benefit not only your own personal well-being but the safety of other drivers around you.
    3. Is one of your requirements to have the big house with the big yard, but for a teeny-tiny price?  If so, you need to talk with your handlers about telecommuting.  Because that kind of real estate option is located on the outer fringes of the bay area (think Tracy).  This is especially true if your high-tech job is somewhere on the mid-peninsula.  Many companies these days actually have a category of employee labeled as telecommuter.  Generally they have no designated space in the office and there may be some other restrictions on activities, depending on your job.
    4. Are you crazy about San Francisco?  You dig the bright lights, the trendy restaurants, and wearing black?  (In case nobody told you, everyone in San Francisco wears black.)  Anyway, my suggestion for you hipster types is to find a job in the city.  That way you can avoid the 101 entirely, maybe even take a cable car to work.  Infinitely more satisfying than slogging down the peninsula.  And these days, business is booming in SF as they are constantly luring high-tech ventures there with tax breaks and other goodies.  The danger of living in SF and working 20 or 30 miles south of there, is that you won’t really get to live in SF – you will only be living on the 101.

To wrap this up – my ultimate suggestion to those looking to live and work in the bay area – find a home as close as possible to your workplace OR a home as close as possible to some form of rapid transit (BART or Caltrain come to mind).  The best commute I ever had was living within a mile of my office.  Yep, I could literally walk – it was even too close to bicycle.  Talk about a reduction in your stress levels.  Life in the valley is challenging enough without squandering precious moments sitting in traffic.  So, if you have the opportunity, locate your domicile in the nearer vicinity of your office and spend that extra time doing something more rewarding, like writing a blog?!  Feel free to share your best advice for eliminating or greatly reducing commute time, or better yet, what you would do with two more hours in the day….