Connecting my office at the food bank and my student housing that I called home was a ribbon of asphalt just over 100km long – one way. At first this seemed strange to me – this idea of travelling literally hundreds of kilometres in a day to and from work until I realized that commuting or the sense of spending hours on the road getting from one destination to another – with not much in-between – was a normal experience for the inhabitants of this prairie province. I had already experienced the numbness of the drive with my job at the provincial head office for the camp ministry – often touring around the province to the different camps – but that was because of the uniqueness of my job. Turns out there was not much unique about it after all – this idea of driving around for hours and hours to get to a necessary destination was a very common part of living in this prairie province.
I started this commuting regime in June with it scheduled to go until June of the following year, corresponding with the finishing up of my degree. I would travel to this large city 100km away with my head professor who also served as the executive director of the counselling center I was affiliated with to do my internship. When he traveled into the city I traveled with him. My hours revolved around his schedule, which worked most of the time.
That first winter – on the very first snow day of traveling I remember quite clearly coming to the outskirts of the large city and noticed a plow truck laying upside down in the ditch. It was the middle of the prairies where corners were something to be celebrated and hills did not exist so why was it that there was this massive snow plow lying upside down in the ditch? How bad would these roads get? To that end my head professor, who also did the driving, had a sure-fire method of testing just how bad the roads might be. He would turn onto the highway from the school and after almost accelerating to highway speed he would slam on his brakes. If he slid then he would turn around and we would not go into the city that day. If he did not slide then off we would go. The logic of the road actually being slippery 100 feet up the road seemed to elude his prairie logic.
The arrangement that I had with the professor was that he would drop me off at the food bank in the morning before heading to his office for the day. I would finish up at 5pm and I would then take public transit to the counselling office, waiting for him to finish up with his last client – normally taking until around 8:30pm when we would then head back home. This would be the first city that I had ever taken public transit. I had not ridden a city bus before and I was nervous at the idea. To drive from the food bank to the office would take someone 5 minutes, 10 minutes if they hit all the traffic lights. To take public transit would take me an hour with one bus transfer.
When I would leave my office I had the option of taking an express bus, which cut almost 30 minutes off of my commuting time – taking me right down town to the transfer station but if I couldn’t catch that bus for some reason then I needed to walk down the block to a regular bus stop and this would add the additional 30 minutes to my time. Getting to the downtown station meant that I had approximately 5-10 minutes at the best of times to hop off of my bus and run up and down the street trying to figure out where my connecting bus had parked this time. If I found it soon enough I could save an additional 15 minutes but if I missed it I would add almost 20 minutes to my commute. That is why I say the commute took an hour. That was the average. On the really bad days when nothing was going my way it took me almost 90 minutes to make that commute and on the very rare great days I was there just under 45 minutes.
I had made a commitment to do this for the year as I worked out that it would possibly take me that long to accumulate the hours I needed to fulfill my graduation requirements. Fortunately, my office was far busier than I had first imagined and I had accumulated the necessary hours in half the time. This corresponded perfectly with the emergence of two job offers that fell onto my lap at Christmas of that same year. With these opportunities I saw the potential to have my commuting come to an end. Something I had been wanting to have happen since the very first day some six months earlier.