Next time you’re stuck in rush hour traffic and your blood pressure starts to rise, take a breath and think of Thurmond Alford.
Alford lives in Chesterfield County, but works at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. That calls for a 3½-hour commute of more than 120 miles. And that’s just one way.
Alford said he’s put 27,000 miles on his 2014 Mazda 6 in just seven months, and he only drives part of the way before hitching a carpool ride and taking the D.C. Metro.
“If I make all the right connections at all the right times, it’s 3½ hours,” Alford said. “I literally go through 11 counties, cross four rivers and three major cities.”
Alford’s commute is so hellish he was chosen last month by Washington radio station WTOP 103.5 FM as the winner of its “Commuter Idle,” a contest for “listeners experiencing the daily horrors of commuting in and around Washington,” the station said. As a prize, Alford got a limo ride to and from work one day and $1,000 for gas.
Alford, 44, is surprisingly upbeat for someone who has been on the road seven hours a day for 12 years.
“Everybody has a monkey on their back– an issue they have to deal with,” he said. “My issue is my commute, and I accept it.”
Here’s Alford’s workday in a nutshell:
He wakes up at 3 a.m., gets ready and leaves the house 45 minutes later. He makes a quick stop at a convenience store for some tea, a snack and a little neighborhood chitchat. From there, he drives 1½ hours to a Garrisonville, Va. commuter lot.
“Basically, you stand in line in the heat of summer, the cold of winter, rain, snow. People come by. They pick you up because you need three people for HOV lanes,” Alford said.
The so-called “slug lines” are organized by destination, mostly to D.C. government buildings or Metro stations. Alford, a father of two and husband of a VCU professor, stands in line for the Pentagon.
“I met a two-star general through slugging,” he said.
After he’s dropped off, he walks to the Metro station, gets on a train, and makes one line transfer before disembarking around 7:30 a.m. Then, he walks a couple more blocks to the U.S. Department of Justice, where he works as a program manager.
He typically arrives back in Chesterfield County by 7:30 or 8 p.m. One night, because of traffic jams, his commute home took more than six hours.
Alford estimates he spends about $45 every three days for gas – he chose his current car based on its gas efficiency and reliability. The DOJ reimburses him for his Metro cards. He gets an oil change every three weeks at about $70 a visit, and once a month he gets a $40 tire rotation to keep his car running smoothly.
Despite his many hours behind the wheel and his annoyance with slow drivers in the fast lane, Alford said he no longer gets road rage.
“I did at the very beginning, but I developed patience,” he said.
Alford said people often ask him why he doesn’t move closer to work.
“I was born and raised in Richmond,” he said. “I love Richmond.”
And he said he loves his job in D.C. “tremendously.”
He’s found ways to make the best of his time. The 1997 VCU graduate uses his morning drive to prepare himself for the day and records his thoughts on his cell phone’s voice recorder. He listens to about five books on tape a month. Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code,” is one of his favorites.
“I do a lot of things while I’m driving. I listen to books on tape. I call people,” he said. “I am pretty productive on my commute.”
Alford has plenty of tips for making the best of a commute. He suggests a well-designed commuter survival kit. Alford’s has maps, family members’ telephone numbers, a spare train ticket, water, a first-aid kit and a change of clothes, among other items.
He said the other two important things to remember are time management and a positive attitude.
Does anyone else in BizSense nation have a commuting tale to tell? Please share your stories in the comments section below.