How To Cope With Traffic Jams

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Among life’s minor tortures, sitting in traffic has to be near the top of the list. Millions of us face this ordeal every morning — and then again for the trip back home.

Is there any escape?

Short of moving, not really. But there are things you can do to make the experience less stressful.

Get a comfortable car with a good stereo, satellite radio and an automatic transmission.

If you spend most of your time behind the wheel staring at the bumper of the car in front of you, what’s under the hood of your car matters a lot less than how comfortable the seats are, how well insulated the interior is — and what kind of stereo rig you’ve got.

A plush sedan may be just the ticket — not the sporty car you can’t really use anyhow. Horsepower and 0-60 times are much less important in the bump and grind than having lots of leg and elbow room, seats that don’t make your backside go numb and — and most important of all, something to keep your mind off the debacle all around you. XM or Sirius satellite radio and their myriad programming options (or an iPod/MP3 player hook-up you can use to download podcasts and so forth) can help you forget that you haven’t moved more than a couple of yards in the past 15 minutes.

This is also why an automatic is essential for a commuter car. I love stick-shift cars, but in traffic, constantly having to push a clutch in and out gets tiring fast. It’s also much harder on the clutch and related components, which will wear out faster — and thus, cost you money.

Adjust your schedule.

Depending on the type of work you do, you may be able to get your boss to change your work hours slightly, enabling you to avoid the times of day when the roads are at a near-standstill. Instead of coming in at 9 and leaving at 5, see if you can get your boss to let you come in at 8 and split at 4 instead. In some cases, being able to leave at 4 vs. 5 may cut 30 minutes or more off your daily grind.

Another possibility is to work through lunch so you can leave an hour “early.”

Bottom line: Unlike asking for a raise, asking for slightly different work hours doesn’t cost the company anything. That makes it more likely your request will be granted.

Telecommuting and flex time.

The next step is to work on your boss to let you work from a home work station some of the time — or even all of the time.

Computers and the Internet opened this door — and today’s networking capabilities and affordable high-speed access (DSL, Cable) make it easy for many white collar and information workers to do everything they need to do from a remote location, such as a home office. More and more employers are becoming receptive to this arrangement, too — especially if you make a strong pitch based on how it will make you more productive and thus a better employee.

Point out that it doesn’t do the company any good for you to be spending two or more hours per day sitting in traffic; that you’d be much more productive if you were able to log on from home and be available immediately and virtually any time. Point out that you could handle unforeseen situations at odd hours and weekends. Present a “business plan” outlining every aspect of the work-from-home arrangement; suggest a trial period to make sure everyone is comfortable with it. You might even consider sweetening the pot by offering to take a pay cut in return for being able to skip the commute. Keep in mind that if they agree, you will save a great deal of money on gasoline, vehicle upkeep and maintenance — and so on. Taking a five percent pay cut may not actually cost you anything on balance — but it will likely be very appealing to your employer.

Try to be Zen about it.

This too shall pass — and working yourself into a futile rage every morning and every night is about as sensible as Elvis shooting the TV whenever Robert Goulet came on. Banging on the wheel, making faces, muttering hate and death under your breath won’t get you there any faster — just as Elvis blowing away his Zenith didn’t much hurt Robert Goulet.

The best way to cope with traffic today is to make a plan to escape it tomorrow. So long as you know the nightmare is temporary — that in three years, let’s say, you’ll have moved, arranged new work hours — whatever your plan is — you’ll be able to deal, just like a con who knows he’ll be out of the clink in “x” number of days.

So long as you have a plan.


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