In between my years in the lovely state of Washington, I had the misfortune joy of living in The Garden State for almost a decade. Prior to living there I had been in Seattle for a number of years, so the concept of traffic was not unknown to me. However, Seattle has always had a fairly decent public transit system for those living on the outskirts of the metro area, so commuting wasn't too bad. New Jersey was like moving to another planet. Where all the drivers are on crack. And carry guns. And public transit is nonexistent.
My first job was a temp position at a large corporate office in Woodbury. I was commuting there from Toms River, so the drive usually took about an hour. Without traffic it might have been a half hour hop skip and jump. But the Garden State Parkway, while green and rather pretty in the southern reaches of the state, is aptly named. Park. Way. The only thing worse than the aggressive drivers and the toll booths were the places where a local throughway would merge onto the Parkway, or where the Parkway would suddenly go from five lanes to three. That was where life got a little dicey.
Its not hard to imagine why the highways would be crowded, in a tiny state stuffed full of seven and a half million people. What's amazing about New Jersey drivers is their innate ability to drive twenty miles an hour over the posted speed limit (yes, that would be about 85-90) and weave back and forth, avoiding the right lane drivers and the New Yorkers. Where it gets truly mind-boggling is when you reach a stopped patch of traffic. How there aren't MORE accidents is beyond my feeble mind to ken.
After enduring far too many years of snarls and jug-handles and summer beach traffic and middle-fingered turn signals, I moved to the center of Washington State, to work at a winery. Most people, when they think of Washington, think of Seattle, with mountains and evergreens and lakes and ferries and big islands (Vashon, Bainbridge, Whidbey). One of the truly great things about Washington, though, its the diversity in both geology and climate. West of the Cascade Mountains (a/k/a The Wet Side, Home of the Moss People), is green and often gray. Rain and drizzle are what we natives TELL you it does all the time, but anyone who's visited the Pacific Northwest between June and September knows that we are all really lying. We just don't want you to realize how pretty it is and actually MOVE here. The Dry Side of the state stretches from the eastern slope of the Cascade mountains all the way across to Idaho. Here you will find long valleys, beautiful rivers, stretches of dry, arid desert, bare mountains and wheat country. Trees? Not so much. Mostly in the populated areas and planted around rural homes as windbreaks. The conditions in the Yakima and Columbia valleys, as it turns out, are ideal for viticulture, and so Washington currently boasts hundreds of estate wineries, most of them located within an 80 mile radius of where I now live.
The winery where I work is far outside of city limits. The closest town is little more than a small conglomeration of a few houses, mobile and manufactured homes. Aside from the winery, land for miles around is devoted to farming. There is an organic dairy, and circle upon circle of onions, corn, mint and hay. Its a 45 mile drive each way from my home to my office down in the warehouse, and most days I take a vanpool with five other people. We have pretty good public transit in the Tri-Cities, despite being very rural. With lots of people working out at Hanford, across the river at the chemical depot in Umatilla, or at many of the area farms, we have a very robust vanpool system. For three days a week it costs me approximately $50-$60 per month, then one day a week I drive myself in, one day a week I telecommute.
The vanpool takes the "boring" way, down I-82 and then out highway 14 along the Columbia River. Once we get to the river, its less boring and rather pretty. But along I-82, there is nothing but dirt, tumbleweeds and sage. Occasionally it is very foggy, but aside from the random coyote sighting, that's about the only variation. On the days I drive myself, I take the scenic route, up Weber Canyon and through the Horse Heaven Hills. For the first year or so, I was bowled over on a daily basis by the contrast between my new commute and my old New Jersey commute. Picture New Jersey. Picture five lanes of the GSP ground to a standstill for hundreds of feet, waiting to squeeze five lanes through three toll booths. Then look at this:
In that fourth picture you can actually see a semi trailer ahead of me and another semi approaching on the cross street. That's what I now refer to as "traffic."
I can't imagine going back to New Jersey, or to any city, for that matter. Yes, spoiled I am.