BEEEEEEEEEP. You look up from your phone, and realize the cars are all honking at you. While you were busy finding the perfect radio station to fit your mood, the traffic light turned green and the two cars ahead of you zoomed away. The seven alarms on your phone failed to wake you up this morning so you’re running late. And in a foolhardy attempt to catch the green light, you accelerate and speed ahead. The attempt failed; the red light caught you.
Ah, how you wish you could roll out of a dorm half-asleep five minutes before class and still make it on time. Well, you can’t, because you’re a commuter. Whether you commute to class year-round or only for summer terms, commuting sucks. Each morning, before the sun rises, you’re reminded that you should be in bed finishing a REM cycle. However, nothing beats the afternoon drive. After sitting half-asleep through monotonous lectures, traffic awaits on every street and highway. As you inch along the road, the walls of your stomach rumble angrily at you for neglecting your hunger.
When I commuted to Florida International University, anger, exhaustion and hunger overcast my days on a regular basis. Each rude driver that cut me off won a flash of my middle finger and the loud music banging through my speakers fueled my road rage.
One particularly lovely morning, disaster unfolded before my (closed) eyes. As I waited to turn left onto campus, the homestretch taunted me. The orange Mazda in front of me decided to stop the second the light turned yellow, leaving me stuck behind her and forcing to wait five minutes for the next green light. My puffy morning eyes begged me to close my eyes shut for just a…THUMP.
Jolted into consciousness, I opened my eyes to see that in the split second I accidentally dozed off, my foot had lifted off the brake pedal enough to hit the car in front of me. While internally screaming, I immediately turned off the car and ran outside to inspect the cars. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a single scratch or dent on either car so the driver told me not to worry about it. My cheeks flared a bright red in embarrassment and I walked away vowing to never let my exhaustion get the better of me.
My almost-accident sparked my curiosity about driving when tired, a phenomenon often faced by frequent commuters. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 42 percent of drowsy drivers become stressed at the wheel, 32 percent become impatient and 12 percent tend to drive faster. After exhibiting all three of those signs, I knew change was necessary not only for my safety, but also for the sake of other drivers.
The first order of business was addressing my music selection. Radio stations LOVE to play the same five or six songs, which leaves you with the same annoying tunes in your head all day. The overkill was driving me insane, and I couldn’t find an entertaining FM radio station to save my sanity. I experimented with Pandora and tried anything upbeat and not overplayed by the radio. John Mayer was my first choice, but his mellow melodies drooped my eyes in exhaustion.
Channeling my inner old-timer, I tried listening to Frank Sinatra. His smooth, charismatic voice calmed the road rage that constantly simmered in my gut, while still keeping me alert. Frank became the copilot on my daily commutes, and his buddies Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby filled the backseat. These artists’ classic tunes kept me awake while lifting my mood up instead of dragging it down.
The music was able to keep me level headed, but sometimes I still needed something else to keep me awake. On days that Frank was unable to lift my spirits, I bribed myself with food. The toddler in me rejoiced with my bribing tactic. The hot, salty fries from McDonald’s distracted me from the rush hour parking lot on the highway and stifled my growling stomach. Between singing along to my favorite artists and munching on my favorite snacks, my commute didn’t seem as long and exhausting anymore.
With a level head and a happy stomach, my commute was less dreadful and more entertaining. So if you’re lucky enough to be in the commuters’ club, figure out what the worst aspect of commuting is for you, and figure out how to fix it. So if commuting makes you feel lonely, try calling a friend on speaker or starting a carpool. If it’s just plain boring, try doing something entertaining like learning a language or listening to an audio book. But no matter what you do to make your commute less dreadful, make sure that (unlike me) you STAY AWAKE.