Coffee, music fuel grueling commutes
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Commuters navigate their way through rush hour traffic in New York City.DETROIT -- Every weekday morning before 5:15, Neil Bunting pulls his gold 2007 Kia Spectra out of his driveway in Bay City, Mich., and heads to work.
Awake since 4 a.m., the 55-year-old project manager is armed with coffee, blues CDs and, sometimes, an audiobook.
For the next 90 minutes to 2 hours -- and again in the evening when he retraces his treads -- Mr. Bunting will live a commuter's nightmare, driving 112 miles to and from EWI Worldwide, an exhibit-creation company in Livonia, Mich.
Mr. Bunting is one of an estimated 3.1 million Americans whom researchers call extreme commuters, people who travel more than 90 minutes to work each way, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
"I get a lot of reactions. Some people think I'm crazy," said Mr. Bunting, who started his current job 14 months ago.
Commutes have been rising for several decades. But they tend to increase especially during periods of joblessness and belt-tightening, leading people to increase the radius of their job searches.
"There's not a lot of work up this way, especially in what I do," said Mr. Bunting, previously a 25-mile commuter. "There's a few other employers a little bit closer who fit the type of work I do, but this is one of the better choices."
For 22-year-old Adrienne Procopio, accepting a job -- her first -- 90 minutes away from her parents' house in downtown Detroit was a no-brainer: She can save money living at home even with the $120 she spends each week to fill up her 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"People think I'm crazy. They don't know how I do it," said Ms. Procopio, who graduated in May from Central Michigan University and is an account executive at Franco Public Relations. "When I got hired, people said, 'You're going to move closer?' "
But for Ms. Procopio, extreme commutes are a family tradition. Her father, Jack Procopio, for years has commuted 1 1/2 to 2 hours to his job at a specialty food company.
"Because he's been doing that since I was little, I always thought when you grow up, everyone drives 1 1/2 hours to work," she said. "I thought it was normal."
According to Denise Reiling, an associate professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, extreme commutes can have several public health and safety implications.
These include nutritional problems from increased in-car snacking, more cigarettes for the bored or stressed-out smoker, blood clots and other circulation troubles because of prolonged sitting, and accidents caused by distracted, drowsy or daydreaming drivers.
In addition, commute time is the second-biggest factor in sleep deprivation, according to University of Pennsylvania doctors who analyzed U.S. Department of Labor data from 2003 to 2005. Failing to get enough sleep can cause health problems, memory loss and attention deficits, all of which can affect job performance.
American and Canadian researchers have calculated that every hour a person spends in a car increases your chance of becoming obese by 6 percent. Obesity in turn can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma.
But Ms. Reiling sees some positives, too.
"A longer commute can be beneficial. There's some sort of symbolic distance from the workplace," she explained. "You're caught between two worlds, a stressful home and a stressful workplace. A long commute can be a godsend. All those minutes, shut the cell phone off and no one can ever find you."
Few people see the increasing willingness to undertake long-distance commutes more than headhunters.
"We find a lot of people willing to drive a lot longer than they used to," said Mark Angott of the Rochester, Mich.-based Angott Search Group. "People would say, 'Thirty, 40 minutes, fine,' and now people say, 'Jeez, I'll drive more than an hour.'"
Carolyn Grabarczyk, of Williamston, Mich., who has commuted 62 miles each way for the past seven years, said she doesn't want to move because of family.
Instead, the 58-year-old had to make some lifestyle changes to accommodate her commute. She schedules late haircut appointments and has switched from a Chevy Blazer to a silver 2006 Impala for better gas mileage.
"People are always surprised that you use that number of hours in a day," said Ms. Grabarczyk, an executive administrator at Lumigen, a chemical luminescence company. "Leave at 7 and get back at 6. You only have three productive hours remaining."
Moving isn't an option for Mr. Bunting either, who said that he and his wife had discussed the possibility.
"We like where we are, and the housing market's so bad now to resell and buy, we'd probably lose on both ends," he said.