Getting Around

The Discreet Charm of Commuting

Commutes are nearly inescapable, mostly reviled, and scientifically proved to be bad for us. While Eric Jaffe at Citylab makes the case that no commute at all is actually a bad thing too, that is not a problem that most of us have. But are there not some hidden gems, some small pleasures in the daily trek?

For a while, I was one of the so-called mega-commuters, covering sixty miles thrice a week with a combination of bicycle and train travel. It was stupid, but because I am fundamentally an optimist, I tried to focus on the happy parts: exercise! quiet time! seeing the sun rise! At the time, I would have told you that I actually didn’t mind it, but now that I have a five-minute bicycle commute, I can say that it sucked. Still, it had its charms.

Short commute notwithstanding, in my current job I sometimes have to travel to far-flung parts of my state (you wouldn’t think Connecticut had far-flung parts, but it does). Today, needing to go from Hartford to Stamford, I chose a two-hour train ride over an hour-and-a-half drive and carried my computer so I could do work on the way. I would say it was pretty great, except that when I arrived at Stamford, I found out that one of the other lawyers involved in my case was sick and had called the court to reschedule, so I just turned around and went back to the train station. Still, the fruitless voyage got me to thinking about the little aesthetic pleasures that make even awful commutes tolerable. Herewith, a few examples:


Crazy Interviews and What They Cost

One morning I got up early and put on my only suit, which I bought off the rack for $230 from Ann Taylor Loft and which luckily fit well enough that it didn’t have to be tailored. I took the subway to Penn Station ($2 then) and one NJ Transit train to Newark-Broad Street so that I could catch another to some quaint clapboard suburban town, South Orange, I think? (~$6, off-peak). From the station, I walked to an boutique advertising agency that had an opening for a Junior Copywriter. I arrived ten minutes early, proud of myself — until I discovered I was actually 24-hours-and-ten minutes early. “I have you scheduled for tomorrow,” the receptionist said, apology and wonder in her voice. No doubt she was curious whether I would turn up.

Well, I showed her. I went home ($8) and then next day did it all again ($8). The best part is that at the end of the series of interviews, which included a writing test where I had to create a marketing plan for Dove chocolate, my potential boss beamed at me and said, “This is great! Thanks so much for coming out two days in a row. We really like you, and we only have one last question: Why do you want to be in advertising?”

You could have heard the buzzing emptiness in my head from three states away. I looked at him, my potential boss, the man I had spent valuable money and time commuting all the way from Brooklyn to impress twice in two days, and was as articulate as a fluorescent light.

Eventually he put me out of my misery and I went home ($8), crossing “advertising” off my list of potential careers as well as “anything in New Jersey.”

I have other stories too, terrible stories, as well as some great ones. (“Are you lying about any of this?” a potential boss once asked, pointing to my resume, and when I said, “No,” he said, “Great, okay then,” left the room, and I got the job.) Tell me yours! Especially any that necessitated a supreme waste of funds.


How We Tip Cabbies

NYC cab fare data for 2013 is now publicly available. That means 100 million cab rides, 55% of which were paid for with a credit card. COMMENCE TIP CREEPIN’.


Lucky Numbers: On Playing The Lottery While Broke

I never forgot it, that fortnight of financial gain. I know that the California Lottery was counting on the fact that I would never forget.


Life in the Desert: The Troubling Need for Cars

We’ve read lately that Americans are driving less than ever. Apparently, this cannot be explained simply by economics, but still: driving is expensive! AAA exhaustively details the costs of driving in this pdf. TL;DR: when you take into account gas, maintenance, financing, insurance, and registration, even a small sedan driven 20,000 miles a year (it gets cheaper the more you drive) costs $0.398/mile to operate. Does that seem maybe like not so much? Consider this: my old commute from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to midtown Manhattan would have cost $6.76 (plus unimaginable aggravation, plus parking).


Riding in Car Services With Boys

Yesterday morning my family and I found ourselves 40 minutes deep into Brooklyn — Midwood, people! — for an appointment with an audiologist. I blame our socialist healthcare, which ironically doesn’t even go into effect until August 1st, but I didn’t know this when we got our referral. So there we were on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue P, sitting in the back of a car service because we made some very impractical promise to ourselves not to take the baby on the subway until he got his two-month vaccinations.

The doctor’s office we were aiming for turned out to actually be not where we were dropped off, but a roughly 20-minute walk away (thanks, Google Maps!). Luckily we had the baby in a carseat with no stroller or carrier, and it was approximately 90 degrees. A recipe for relationship success right there. About to find out if your child is hearing impaired? Definitely recommend getting no sleep the night before then go for a 20-minute walk in the sun carrying a baby in a carseat. Then, once you get there, realize you forgot to memorize your baby’s social security number and are therefore a terrible parent. Despite this, find out your child’s insurance kicks in August 1st so you will be paying out-of-pocket to find out two weeks too soon that your kid’s hearing is perfectly fine.

Thankfully it was only (only?) $75 and we put it on our (shared!) debit card.

Anyway at the end of our first of two car trips, we unbuckled and I said the magic words:

“So how much do we owe you?”


Would You Pay $375 for A Night at the Museum? ANY Museum?

Having refused to subject myself to Ben Stiller’s particularly noxious brand of simian energy, I know very little about Night at the Museum or its sequels. [Sidebar: actors we'd pay money to never see again in movies. Go!] From the trailers and the reviews though, heck even from the poster, I’ve gotten a pretty decent idea: it’s like Toy Story, only instead of toys coming to life, it’s dinosaurs, right? Less charm, more rampaging?

Ever since the movie drew more children’s attention to the American Museum of Natural History, the AMNH has been hosting family sleepovers; and now, for the first time, the museum is hosting one for adults. For $375 per person ($325 if you’re a member), you can get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of Nerd Nirvana.

  • The overnight adventure will begin with a champagne reception and music (courtesy of the 12th Night Jazz trio) in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.
  • A three-course dinner will be served.
  • Explorers can roam through the nearly empty halls of the Museum (including the spiders). There will also be a flashlight tour.
  • Participants will be invited to attend a special presentation in The Power of Poison exhibition with Curator Mark Siddall.
  • There will be a midnight viewing of the Dark Universe Space Show, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Participants will also be invited to “enjoy wild creatures up close during a live animal demonstration in the Kaufmann Theater”!
  • You will sleep in your sleeping bag… under the big blue (clean) whale! When you wake up there will be a breakfast snack.

I’m all for this, but personally, for $375, I’d like a bed. At least a cot, or an air mattress that slowly deflates over the course of the night. Flashlight tours are always tops, though. Like flashlight tours of old cemeteries? Worth every penny. Speaking of pennies, though, what is a “breakfast snack”? Is it more or less than an Egg McMuffin?

Do you think camping out near the Planetarium stars is worth $375? Or would you pay that amount cheerfully for a different institutional location: the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Confederate Museum?


How to Repair a Car That Isn’t Yours

Fast forward ten years and I’m stuck in Woodstock, New York, with a baby in my lap and something called a “Hooter Hider” hanging around my neck. It’s 90 degrees out. I’m texting my friend furiously but she isn’t answering. We have borrowed her car for the weekend, or actually we told her we would ‘babysit’ her car for the week, which is a thing you have to do in the city: babysit cars. That is, agree to move friends’ cars around to different sides of the street on cleaning days so they don’t get tickets.


The Average Affair Will Cost You $2600 Apparently?

According to a press release sent to Mike by a concerned tipster and loyal reader — haha, JK, by Edith — “The Average Affair Begins 2 Years into Marriage, Lasts Six Months and Costs Over $2,600.” Are you ready for this?

In addition to potentially costing a person their happy home and marriage, a leading coupon brand has revealed that the average affair costs the cheating party over $2,600, including dollars spent on expensive dinners, hotel check and gifts while sneaking around behind their spouse’s back. The survey, conducted by, was part of the company’s wider research into the leisure spending of American citizens, after an increase in searches for dating discounts. 2,645 US citizens took part in the study, all of whom were aged 25 and over and had been married to their current partner for a minimum of 5 years.

Aged 25+, married 5+ years … holy god, they’re talking about me! So what do I have to look forward to?

The following list reveals the average spend per item per month:

Hotel Bills – $123 Dinner & Drink Tabs – $162 Gifts – $54 Date activities e.g. cinema tickets – $69 Other – $36

This equates to average expenditure of $444 per month. Considering the average affair lasts for six months, the total cost of an illicit extramarital relationship was revealed to be $2,664. The adulterous respondents were then asked: “Did/Does your spouse ever question your finances or notice any unexplained expenditure, in relation to your affair?” to which only a third (32%) said that ‘yes’, their partner had noticed their extramarital financial commitments.


Riding the Chinatown Bus, and Considering Its True Cost

My first job out of undergrad was doing radio and producing work for a newswire in Washington D.C., while one of my college roommates lived in New York’s Lower East Side and was cast in off-off-Broadway shows. Neither of us were making very much money, but we were four hours away from each other and would visit using the cheapest mode of transportation we could find: the Chinatown bus.

These buses had various names: The Fung Wah Bus, Megabus, Boltbus, Washington Deluxe, and so on. Back then, for $30, you could go to from D.C. to New York and back again.

You could also get stranded on the side of the road, or deal with a number of other nightmares—these buses got into accidents all the time.

Nico Lang discusses some of the horror stories and common complaints at the Daily Dot: