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Opinion: My commute to Denver has become an automotive conga line — but I’ve learned to accept it

As someone who devotes an inordinate amount of his life driving to and from work each day, I’ve come to realize that the nature of my commute has changed drastically over the past several years.

If you’ve lived here longer than a few oil changes, no real surprise there. But it might come as a shock to most Denverites that I think my commute from Conifer has actually gotten better over the years.

That’s right, I said better.

I remember the days when my 2008 commute from the idyllic foothills of Conifer to the city proper rarely exceeded 50 minutes. Nowadays, it’s usually around an hour. Occasionally, it takes an hour and ten. And a few times a year, if it snows — more than two hours.

Tom Wood

Given that Denver’s population has ballooned from 595,880 souls in 2008 to more than 700,000 today, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that more people + more cars = longer daily commute.  

For most of us lemmings who vacate our homes in the suburbs or foothills to join the automotive equivalent of a conga line into the city of Denver, single-digit speeds usually translate into triple-digit heart rates.

I used to fume at the idiocy of every single driver around me. They were driving too fast. Or too slow. Merging too soon. Or too late.

I obsessed over traffic etiquette. I’d flip the bird to every Audi (and it’s always Audis) that cut me off. Or shout heated obscenities that just bounced back off my windshield and fogged the windows.

Consequently, none of my actions cut one nanosecond from my commute or changed the driving habits of my fellow doomed motorists who were cursed to do the daily I-70 shuffle or the I-25 tango.

Jealously, I marveled at the folks who displayed the multitasking skills of Jedi Masters while making their commutes.

For these folks, texting and driving were considered entry level skills. They could shave, apply mascara, eat bowls of soup, take Cheech & Chongian bong hits, read the newspaper, all while steering with their mind powers (or maybe knees) through five lanes of bumper to bumper traffic.

Simply masterful! All safe driving concerns aside, I’ve just never been the kind of person who is good at doing more than one thing at a time.

So, I just sat there, resigned to my fate, creeping along and fuming a few more minutes on average for year after frustrating year.

So what made my commute better? What inspired my transformation from a crazed commuter to a mostly calm, pretty well-collected motorist?

Necessity.

When I finally realized that I couldn’t avoid becoming a distracted driver while firing a bazooka from my truck, that teleportation wouldn’t become a reality in my lifetime and that Gov. John Hickenlooper wasn’t going to build a wall around Colorado to stem the tidal wave of immigrant motorists from other states, all that remained was acceptance.

READ:Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

My commute has taught me acceptance. Patience. And how to simply let go of things over which I have zero control.

I won’t say my commute has turned into an exercise in meditation, but it has certainly given me a couple hours each day to practice my breathing. To listen to the albums on my playlist that I’d always skipped over.

It’s taught me that surrendering my angst to the great cosmic petroleum, chrome and rubber gods that pull their strings from high atop corporate America is a better alternative than succumbing to road rage. (Public Service Announcement: This very same sort of acceptance works well when the conversation turns to politics or religion.)

But while acceptance may be the ticket to a saner commute for us lowly motorists, it’s obvious that tactic WON’T work for city, county and state traffic officials who have to strategize for the future of Denver.

They have the unenviable task of preventing Denver from becoming a western version of Atlanta, a northern version of Houston or an eastern version of Seattle.

All of the aforementioned cities battle urban sprawl, with the majority of their commuters not just coming in from other cities, but other counties.

Adding more lanes and increasing public transportation options have certainly been go-to answers when frustrated motorists scream, “What have you done for me lately?”

But long-term, outside-of-the-box solutions may hold the ignition key. More affordable housing within city limits? Marketing campaigns that tout the merits of telecommuting? GPS tracking units installed in cars to determine how much motorists should pay for the privilege of driving their personal vehicles to and from work?

Lots to think about.

But whatever tomorrow’s solutions might be, they ain’t gonna shorten our commute next week.  

So commuting Coloradans, here’s my advice; take it or drive away from it. Rejoice in your forced solitude.

Sit back, put on a good audiobook, go to your happy place, buy a bigger travel mug for your coffee (and maybe some Depends undergarments for those snowy commutes), enjoy the audio familiarity of the Shane Company jewelry commercials on your AM radio and marvel that you are privileged enough to make the daily drive into the heart of a city that must be a pretty damned cool place to work, based on the ever-increasing number of folks trapped in their vehicles next to you.

And if you just can’t get enough of this kind of motorized bliss from your weekday commute, despair not. Weekend ski traffic season is just around the corner.

Tom Wood is a freelance writer and photographer who now lives in Morrison with his wife, three teen-aged children, a dog, two cats and a turtle named Batwing. He is also a 20-year veteran of Evergreen’s Alpine Rescue Team.