Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shortcuts


I have short commute. 4 miles. It’s great. Especially in this town with its typical 60-minute commutes. I can’t complain. And I’m not. But even with a short commute I look for short cuts. Along the 4 miles there are a half-dozen or so stop lights, it’s mostly neighborhood and secondary roads, and nowhere is the speed limit greater than 35 m.p.h. So the 4 miles can take 15 minutes. And there is one particular intersection that is troublesome, some days it can take several light cycles to get through, and can add 5 minutes to the commute. 5 whole minutes! Sometimes more on a Friday afternoon. I can avoid this nasty intersection by turning right, down a side street, past the post office, then left onto an unnamed access road that dumps me out between two strip mall parking lots, then back onto the main road. I take this short cut all the time.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I was behind a truck at the light where I’d turn right onto the side street. The light was turned red and the truck stopped. I couldn’t make my turn right on the red! I was losing precious moments! Goddamn truck! The light changed and the truck ever-do-slowly accelerated and I was finally freed from my red-light trap. I passed the post office, turned left down the unnamed access road, between the two parking lots and, … , and, what’s this? To my dismay it was … That Truck! I sat there slack-jawed as it passed in front of me. It had taken the “standard” route and beat me to the end of my shortcut! How could this be?

Well, it’s simple really. I developed that short cut a couple years ago when I was working a standard 9 to 5 schedule. Now I work a modified schedule and don't have to drive through that intersection during the rush hour crunch. And when not rush hour, apparently, traffic through the intersection moves just fine. During non-rush hour, my shortcut is not really a short cut at all. Additionally, they’ve also modified that intersection in the past 12 to 18 months. There is an extra left turn lane on one side, I think the light timing has been changed, and they’ve put up fence barriers to reduce pedestrians crossing the road all over the place. And maybe some other things too. I knew this had happened. I knew about the construction and the changes. The intersection flows better. Combined with my changed driving habits I should have reconsidered my route. But I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me to reconsider my route. I just kept taking my secret shortcut because that is the way I go. I no longer took my shortcut because I thought it saved me time, I took my shortcut because I knew it saved me time. And it was just the way I went to work. I didn’t think about it at all. But now I know. My way takes longer. Maybe not a lot, but it’s certainly not shorter. And traveling down the main road to the intersection requires fewer turns. Regardless, now I know, there is no advantage, I can tell, to take my shortcut anymore.

So this morning I left for work at a non-standard time again. It was about 10:15am. Not rush hour. I drove to that point where I would turn right for my short cut. And for a moment I thought about it and thought how silly it is that we are such creatures of habit. How things change around us and we barely notice. And things change and we keep on with our ways because that is just what we do. We do what we’ve done because it is comfortable and familiar. It’s what we know. And even if we are aware, when presented with data or even direct experience to refute what we know, we choose to ignore it, or worse, fight against it. I thought of this for just a moment. Then turned right and took my secret short cut. I laughed at myself as I passed the post-office then shook my head, as I turned left down the unnamed access road.

I wonder which way I’ll go tomorrow?

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