Traffic jams pack my commute with adventure
By KIMBERLY FORNEK email@example.com
You can go a lot of places in your car.
You can go to Paris with Ernest Hemingway or explore Highgate Cemetery in London with a ghost. You can see the building of the Columbian Exposition alternately through the eyes of Daniel Burnham and a serial killer.
These are some of the places I’ve experienced as I listened to audiobooks in my car driving to and from work.
Don’t get me wrong. Commuting is exhausting. For more years than I care to count, I drove 80 miles a day or more. When my job changed and the distances got shorter, the congestion on the route got worse.
But the long-distance driver’s car, at times, becomes his capsule insulating him from the screeching brakes of semi-trailers and transporting him across countries and centuries.
Thanks to compact discs and books on tape, while my tires slowly turn on the backed-up Edens Expressway, or Stevenson or Eisenhower or Interstate 294, I enjoy the fertile imaginations and careful research of writers such as Erik Larson, Audrey Niffenegger and Anne Patchen.
I’m sure I’m not the only driver who sat in her car after she got to her destination to hear what happens next in the story.
But literature is not the only escape. When I’m feeling harried on my way to work or spent on my way home, I can pop a mood-changing CD into the dashboard and change the soundtrack of my life. At least for the next 50 minutes or so. A favorite song can recharge my battery for the night out ahead.
But I don’t need CDs to keep myself amused. Commuting has helped me appreciate the radio. What a great invention, the radio! I think about how other forms of entertainment and communication have evolved. After phonograph records, came 8-track tapes, which were replaced by cassettes, which have been supplanted by compact discs. Now people can carry hundreds of hours of recorded material with them on their iPods.
Or think of all the variations of the telephone and how cellphones have changed just in the past five years.
But the car radio has stayed pretty much the same, as far as I know. You turn it on, you turn it off.
But it, too, takes me away. I’ve listened to presidential debates and important news broadcasts while I’ve been driving, such as reports about the fatal fire in the Cook County Administration Building in Chicago in 2003 and the 911 calls for help from workers trapped in the stairwells.
I hear the news in a way I don’t when I’m watching coverage on television. Not being able to see the speakers seems to deepen my focus on their words.
And in a more light-hearted vein, the radio regularly takes me to Wrigley Field and Sox Park. I’m in my own private suite listening to the announcers describe the game, ask trivia questions, and simply jaw.
I’m more a Sox fan than a Cubs fan, but listening to Pat Hughes, partnered with either Ron Santo or Keith Mooreland, is truly easy listening. And it’s fun to watch the plays I heard them describe on the nightly news. They often are not how I pictured them.
Finally, driving Chicago’s expressways is certainly not scenic, but the view of the sky from them can be wondrous. I mean, if you can’t be on a cruise ship or a mountaintop.
I’ve seen amazing lightning storms and have raced dark thunderclouds swiftly moving across the sky to reach home before they reach me.
And around Fourth of July, you can see several fireworks shows in one night, driving through one suburb after another.
So while you’ll still see me throw up my hands in frustration when traffic on an “express” way comes to a complete stop due to a construction zone where no work is being done or an accident that already has been cleared away, I have to admit, traffic is not all bad.
Kimberly Fornek is a staff writer for The Doings.