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How I Got Un-grumpy

February 9, 2010

Don't be fooled by the smile. I was grumpy.

For nearly two years, I was perpetually grumpy.

The reason: Commuting was taking years off my life.

At the time, I lived in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C., and I worked in Ballston, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virg. My daily commute was entirely inside the Beltway and only took me about seven miles from home, as the crow flies, but it took 45 minutes to an hour each way on the subway.

Don’t get me wrong. D.C.’s Metro system is a wonderful specimen of inner-city transit and often a pleasure to use. Relative to other city’s systems, it’s simple, efficient, and incredibly clean. Still, at nearly two hours a day, I was spending 730 hours in its confines each year. If I lived to be 80 (and maintained the same commute route), I’d have racked up 38,690 hours of Metro time. That’s 1,612 days underground!

Can you see why I was grumpy?

I’d get up feeling anxious, as I hurried to try to avoid the post-7:30 a.m. crowds on the train. I’d leave work in a rush, hungry for dinner and anxious to be home and relaxed already. I’d count the stops and the minutes to arrival, both coming and going. The trains and the stations became so familiar to me that I saw them as sort of a second home—but this was no vacation lake house.

I decided that I needed to improve my quality of life somehow. So I bought a new bike, a nice one that was comfortable and fun to ride, and I began commuting by bike.

Suddenly, I was a lot less grumpy.

Biking was more fun than Metro-ing, and it turned out to be quicker too, believe it or not. I could now make the one-way trip in 35-40 mintues. Not only that, but with my commute and my workout combined into one, I had an additional free hour each day.

With the extra time, I could prepare a whole-foods dinner and eat it before it got so late that I lost my appetite. I could watch a movie on a weeknight or go to bed early enough to read for a bit without falling asleep two pages in.

Also, when needed I could use the Metro and not feel like I was in prison. Add to that the fact that the exercise of biking is a stress-reliever, and I was like a new person. Now, when I woke up, I felt excited to get on my bike instead of the treadmill. After a hard day at work, I felt re-charged, as I pedaled around the traffic mess on M Street.

This is not to say that there were no days when my commute was less than happy. There was bad weather, there were jerky car-drivers, there were days when I was tired or just didn’t feel like biking.

Nevertheless, I give bike-commuting a large portion of the credit for my happy final year in our nation’s capitol.

What about you? What have you done lately to improve your quality of life? It doesn’t have to be related to commuting or being car-free.

Tell us what you did you make yourself less grumpy.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Franke permalink
    February 9, 2010 8:57 am

    I would say exercise has played a major role in making me less grumpy. As I can see shaving an hour off of your commute everyday can make anyone very happy, I strongly believe that any form of exercise can improve your quality of life. I began running about 18 months ago and I now crave the endorphin release and the rush of energy I get before and after a run. This increased energy allows me to be more alert, excited and ready to tackle the days challenges.

    Parallel with exercise, love has made me a much happier person as well. After meeting the woman of my dreams life is much more enjoyable and I constantly have something to look forward to. So there you have it, my two key ingredients to improving the quality of life are love and exercise!

    Carpe diem,

  2. pawl permalink
    February 10, 2010 1:31 am

    While I living in Boulder, but before I was living at Masala, I used to work in Denver at the Food Bank of the Rockies. I used to drive it, which was only a 30 or 45 minutes depending on traffic. When the vehicle died I had to resort to the bus. It was and hour and a half, one way. 30-45 minutes (even on the BX) to Market Street station, then another 45-60 on the 44 to north Denver by where the old airport used to be.
    At first it was great reading time, but I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’d rush through my job and beg my supervisor to let me go home early. My job was demanding 11 hours a day from me, while I was only getting paid for 8. This was too much. I finally quit that job to drive a short bus based out of Boulder. I took a $3/hr pay cut for this. I did get a free bus pass out of the deal though.
    It was pretty liberating. I never would have chosen to be car free, but through those circumstances I realized that even though I can’t go as far as easily, my mobility became independent. Granted, an apparatus was involved (walking barefoot would be truly independent), but I responsible for powering it with my body. I was in control.
    Mobility was a big theme at the bus driving job. I drove this bus because the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in 1984 required public transportation providers to meet the needs of their customers with special needs. My customers were mostly people with mobility problems.
    I rarely take the bus, and I rarely take my bike riding for granted now. Those questions that ask you what 6 things you could not live without, or the three things you would want on a desert island, my bike is #1. It is my livelihood. I am not a happy boy when my bike is not working.
    My mood and my bike are directly related.
    Biking is such a part of my life I hardly consider any other mode of transportation; busing, walking, driving (unless there is something a vehicle is absolutely required for).
    I am happiest when my tires are full & true, my chain well lubed, riding my bike on a smooth road. This is something I get to do almost everyday.

    • pawl permalink
      February 10, 2010 1:32 am

      Pardon the grammar & typos, I forgot to proofread it before submitting it.

  3. avaerewyck permalink
    February 11, 2010 12:15 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Tim, and be sure to read today’s post, which includes ideas for how to show your true love a car-free good time on V-Day.

    Sing, sing, SING the praises of biking, Pawl! I love it.


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