How to deal with an insane commute


I usually leave work at 2:30 to pick up my kids. But on days when I ditch the kids and work to go to the farm, I allay my guilt by staying at work well after 2:30 so everyone will think I stayed late. I call the farmer when I'm on the road because I always leave a little later than I say I will and he never believes I'm on my way until I am.

I have written before about how insane it is to have a long commute. In case you’re wondering, the average commute in the US is 25 minutes each way. Newsweek describes the population of people who travel at least 90 minutes each way as “extreme commuters”. That is me, twice a week, on farm days.

Before I leave work, I line up five calls at twenty minute intervals because if I don't get a lot done on the drive then I question whether it is responsible for a woman who struggles to find time for her kids and career to also have a boyfriend ninety minutes from civilization.

I wonder a lot if the guys at work know how often I go to the farm.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I had a 50 minute commute each way, and I had a panic attack on the 405. So I know a bit about long commutes. Mostly, that they are impossible. So I try to pretend I’m not actually doing a commute. I make a list of stuff to think about and tell myself it’s thinking time. I do Kegel exercises and tell myself it’s Pilates time. (Because most of Pilates is Kegel-based anyway. Really.)

At the one-hour point there's a gas station. It used to be, when my company was out of funding, I wouldn't buy gas until the last minute. And I worried that I'd run out of money before I got myself home.

That actually happened once, I took the farmer's credit card to get home. And he didn't blink. Because we both know that I take home 25 times his salary but he always has more money than I do.

I used to stop at the gas station to put on makeup, when I was nervous and trying to win him over and showering extra, because farmers are nuts about being clean. (Way more than city people because, let's face it, city people never get dirty if the standard for dirty is working knee-deep in pig manure for a day.) At the beginning I was clean and fresh-faced and stopped at the hour point to put on makeup.

After a while, I just touched up makeup from earlier in the day. And now we’re close enough that he takes me to the free dinner from the seed manufacturer on farmer appreciation night. So now I just stop at the gas station to buy staples, like Power Bars, which I need to eat for breakfast when I need comfort food. The farmer says I'm addicted to carbs, but I noticed that when he has to deal with anything beyond the farm—like my kids, or me having a crisis —then he eats carbs, too.

So I pick up three Power Bars, in case he wants one, and the woman at the counter asks me again, “Where is your farm?” I know she knows. She's already asked once. So I give her more information, which I know she's looking for because the farmer has told me that people in the country don't ask directly for what they want.

“I have my own company in Madison,” I say. “I come here to see my boyfriend.”

“Oh. What kind of company?”



I check myself out in the bathroom. I want to look hot. I just don't want to do a lot to get there. And I pee. Because what if the farmer wants to have sex right away when I get there?

He rarely does. But peeing at the gas station is my expression of my hope.

I get back in the car and listen to music. The transition is important. If you have a bad commute, your bad mood permeates your whole mood after the commute. I am determined to not let that happen. So the gas station stop is a separator. I have to rest there so the last 30 minutes is all that counts toward the post-commute mood.

The last 30 minutes to his house is through rolling hills hiding large corn fields and small vegetable gardens, and every driver who passes by me waves like I’m a neighbor.

I have been talking all day. The farmer has been quiet all day. So when I pull up the dirt road, I go straight to the porch, lay my head on his lap, and I listen. I listen to his voice above the wrestling wind through the tall corn stalks. He reports chicken and cows and hay for thirty minutes while I rest.

And then Moby Dick. He's reading that. He tells me about Ahab's antics from the three nights since I have been there. I am stuck on the fact that Ahab got crazier and crazier chasing his whale and he spent his whole life in transit, looking for it.

I tell him my commute is insane.

We go running in the hay field. He serves steaks as finger food. We sleep on his bed on the porch, sort of under the stars.

In the morning I tell him again that the commute will never work.

He tells me he sees we’re at a big decision point in the relationship and he needs time to think. Alone.



How long?

Just a week.


How about six days?

We make a plan. And I set off for the commute to work, wondering what will happen next.

He leaves me with two dozen eggs, some just-ripe squash, and a bite mark on the inside of my thigh.

94 replies
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  1. Marky Mark
    Marky Mark says:

    “Ditch the kids” ? That choice of words says it all. I hope they aren’t reading this blog while you are off slutting around.

  2. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    When I had long commutes the best ones were on the train, or bus, or car pool. Even if the public transport took longer (it usually does with stops and connections), you get quality time, when you don’t have to also drive. Next best was having two ways to get there, and back, like a backup plan that you take once in a while. Can boyfriend drive 1/2 way and pick you up? (Maybe all the way, once or twice?) Or, at least to the gas station? Maybe not everytime, but can’t he spare an hour, or three, too? It’d be quality time for the two of you, once you hook up, since he probably knows the roads better, especially in bad weather, etc. You’d have to figure out if you’re allowed to work while he drives, maybe. We have a plethora of private carriers here in Boston, limo drivers, taxis, you name it. Could you hire a driver? I know that may sound extravagent, it’s also sort of old fashioned. There are lots of reasons to do so.

  3. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    I went insane from two commutes. A 60 minute both ways drive for work (I eventually cut it to 40 minutes each way by switching my schedule to 10-6 but that sucked too). Then a 2-3 hour commute to the next state to see my fiance every other weekend. Both commutes were very unpredictable to boot. I took the train to see him so that I could rest my car and my body (driving is super stressful and bad for the upper body and hips). But I had to take one train and transfer to another just to get to Philly. It wasn’t unusual that the transfers didn’t match. And once I arrived in Philly, I had to take a subway to a bus to get to his house.

    I took your advice by thinking, I have to fix the things that bother me most and those are driving and not seeing my boyfriend every day. I finally told him I was quitting my job and moving in with him and the next day he proposed. This was a coincidence because he was planning to anyway. The jewelry was already in his pocket.

    Now we live together and I have no job and we have a huge fight once a week about closet space and clutter. But I don’t drive anymore.

  4. Liz
    Liz says:

    It really seems like he has a pattern of pushing you away whenever you start to relax. Then, and I could be misunderstanding, there seems to be this path for you to “earn” your way back. You get to be cool, or provide space, or decide if you want to live with his rules… or whatever. Very task-oriented. Very satisfying if you “win” his affection again. Very absorbing.

    If that’s what you want, I think many relationships have lasted a really long time by keeping it balanced. I just hope you have the same freedom to determine rules and games for him.

  5. Wil Butler
    Wil Butler says:

    You should try living in the center of the Twin Cities weave out in Minnesota. After a week of driving to Minneapolis every morning, you’ll hardly feel the Farm Day commute any longer.

    Besides, what’s 90 minutes for someone you love? I drive 90 minutes weekend mornings to have coffee with people I like and it takes 4 hours to visit some of my close family.

    Maybe you’re just still stuck on city-living time, where everything from the place you live takes 20 minutes tops.

  6. klein3351f
    klein3351f says:

    eeewww! I don’t want to think of you that way. What is your “business” again and what does this have to do with it?

  7. astrorainfall
    astrorainfall says:

    Wow, it seems it’s not that rare to have a city-rural relationship, esp with a farmer. Must be brawn that is attractive…

    Penelope, I hope it works out. It sounds like he really likes you, and you him.

  8. Betty Camacho
    Betty Camacho says:

    Just an idea, have you ever read/heard about (the blog) The Pioneer Woman? She wrote her love story, tongue in cheek called “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels”. She was a city girl that fell in love with a cowboy:

    She married him, moved out to his farm in OK, giving up law school in Chicago in the process and now has four kids, a prize winning blog, a cookbook published, glorious home in the country etc. etc.

    ….perhaps you could be a more Business-ey version of The Pioneer Woman….running an internet company from the country…

    Or…no one would blink if you left it “all” for the farmer and blogged only saucy posts about life in the country with the brawny farmer….just sayin’…

  9. rennie
    rennie says:

    Based on your understandably vague description of the farmer’s locale, I’m familiar with the area he may live. This region of Wisconsin – known as the Driftless Area because of the glacial drift formations – is stunningly beautiful and considered by many the greatest scenery anywhere. The people are friendly to boot.

    Penelope, getting 90 minutes to yourself and driving through this land is a gift. Let go of the chaos in your life, stop talking on the phone and slow down. Look out your window. In the next few weeks the fall colors will be absolutely gorgeous!

  10. P. Alves
    P. Alves says:

    I’m a fan of Penelope’s blog, and I think I enjoy reading the comments as much as the post itself (that’s why I wait a few days after I receive the link in my RSS feed to visit this site).

    Being Brazilian, and therefore constantly amused by the level of “prudity” displayed by Americans, I thought I’d add one more perspective here, in defense of the people being accused of being prudish.

    I can understand people not being interested in reading about one’s private life (not only sexual stuff, but also other things not relevant to the topic at hand) when they open an article about surviving long commutes. Some people may be OK with, say, polyamorous relationship, but prefer not have to read about it in the middle of a post about how to choose the right career.

    In my case it’s not a problem, but for other people it is, and perhaps they will have more luck finding other bloggers to read than complaining about TMI in Penelope’s posts.

  11. Jay
    Jay says:

    B broke our date tonight after I got so wrapped up in I’net, networking, opportunities, misplaced time, ’cause on Fridays after 3, a half hour drive is about an hour, maybe more.

    45 minutes ain’t 90, but it ain’t 15 either. And traffic sucks.

  12. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “I do Kegel exercises and tell myself it’s Pilates time. (Because most of Pilates is Kegel-based anyway. Really.)”

    I just found this article ( ) while doing some research on beer. It explains the difference between Keggle (an informal word for a keg that has been converted into a kettle) and kegel (generally used to exercise pelvic muscles, treat "vaginal prolapse" and possibly increase sexual gratification in women).

    The Internet has a unique way of combining research and fun.

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  14. Ron
    Ron says:

    Bite marks and hand prints on the inside of your thighs are such sweet reminders! Love your blog, brand new visitor.

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