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Drive me crazy

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01/12/2012

Blair Chavis photo

I named my car "Lois" when I bought her. The reasons for her naming are two-fold. One, I thought it would be cute to play on the whole Superman (Clark Kent) and Lois Lane idea—a tribute to my childhood love of Superman movies—because I've been working as reporter for a majority of the time I've lived in Chicago. Two, I happen to be a huge fan of the TV series, Family Guy.

Sadly, my car excursions have not matched the adventures Lois Lane had in the movies; ironically, I've developed a love-hate with Lois, my car, much akin to the relationship Family Guy character Stewie Griffin has with his mother, Lois.

As of recent, I've been hating on Lois because she has not been cooperating. Lois doesn't have many years on her and her mileage isn't terribly high for her age, but for the last couple months she's been nothing but trouble. Her temper flared up in October when she needed a grocery list of maintenance work, followed by engine trouble in December and more engine trouble this week. Not to mention, I got rear-ended by a sketchy fellow in December who no longer has a working phone. I don't think Lois is a lemon, but she's got issues.

I usually have fewer grievances with Lois, and more complaints about the road, itself. In the spirit of Family Guy, I must say, commuting really "grinds my gears." Everyone has a repertoire of commuter horror stories and rants. Just ask anyone what it's like for them to get to work, and they can't stop talking. I am one of those people. When I first moved back to Chicago after college I was a slave to the not-so-glorious Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and could be found stomping my feet at the bus stop as full buses passed by during rush hour in the cold. Or, I might have been spotted pulling my hair out on a broken-down bus on Lake Shore Drive (and I wasn't even one of the Snow-pocalypse 2011 victims). With public transit cuts during the past few years, I can only imagine how fun it must be for commuters now. The people watching opportunities, however, made riding the CTA somewhat worthwhile.

I bought Lois when I started reporting in the suburbs. I only had to be in the office a few days a week, and could work in the field or at home the other days. I had my share of I-290 trips—a.k.a. the "death trap"—which included the "strangler" exit near Harlem Avenue. I also had to report in suburbs spanning Skokie to Gurnee. I had my share of driving and Lois generally had a daily workout, but she was a champ.

I'm now at a job in the suburbs, in which I follow the same commute every day. One would think Lois now breathes easy and I know what to expect every morning. However, my commute on I-94/U.S. Route 41 has proven to be the most treacherous of all. I drive through familiar territory, as I grew up in the northern suburbs. However, the traffic is preposterous. I travel a distance of about 22 miles from home to work and it takes about an hour and 30 minutes on average each way during rush hour. I spend three hours a day in my car to drive 44 miles. If we work 261 days out of the year, not counting holidays, for me that means 783 hours a year spent in my car, give or take a Thanksgiving or Yom Kippur. When did I have time to calculate all of this? In my car, of course.

I'm a bit of a voyeur when it comes to public spaces. I love air travel because I enjoy people watching in airports and examining people on airplanes. I was a bit like that on public transit, too. I miss the days, when I could sit sleepily on the bus and watch people play with their phones, complain about their boyfriends and pretend to read magazines while inching away from their seatmates. On public transit, you're not alone, but you try your best to pretend you are and get a sneak peek into others' lives.

In my car, I'm yelling at traffic (but really to myself), on a road filled with people with big attitudes and small clutches. Other drivers are more in your business than the half-naked trench coat guy sitting next to you on the El.

My morning commute sets the tone for my entire day. My alarm goes off, I grab the remote and flip on the local news for a traffic report. If there is a fleck of snow on the ground, I know there will be an overturned truck, several lanes blocked and no end in sight.

We all have our Zen moments during the commute when we've blissfully passed the split, strangler or accident that was holding us up. I can gauge my entire commute, for instance, on what time I pass through the I-90-94 split. If radio personalities Eric and Kathy on WTMX are already announcing their "Mix Morning Mind Bender," I'm in big trouble.

I also find inner peace while traveling with Lois, singing at the top of my lungs to Adele, rock-a-cappella mix CDS and… (I've shared too much).

My friend at work pointed out that there are some days when you can tell the world is downright angry. Drivers tail your bumper, beep, cut you off, pass you shaking their fists, forget to signal and flip you off. You would think they had no regard for whether their car survived the morning commute, let alone another human being. This is all before I've had my morning coffee and I don't know what to do with these people and their a.m. rage—perhaps, it stems from them not yet having their coffee either. Perhaps, too, toll booths in Illinois should include coffee fill-ups and refills—we're certainly paying enough. We need our fuel too, Illinois. If Lois gets a drink, so do I.

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