Do You Sneak Out for a “Fake Commute?”

If you don’t live alone, time in the car provides much-needed time for yourself.


A recent round of pandemic-era think pieces — an industry unto itself at this point — has concerned the emerging phenomenon of “fake commuting.” Some workers, missing the twice-daily chunks of time that separated their professional life from their home life, have taken to driving, biking or walking aimlessly before they begin their work-from-home duties.

Plan it right and you can even roll through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through and devour 400 calories of shame before that first meeting. Just like the good ol’ days.

While my work habits don’t quite gel with that approach, I absolutely understand the appeal — particularly when it comes to the time in the car. I’m sure that walkers and cyclists derive similar benefits, but a year into this thing, I find myself deeply missing the time spent driving from one place to another every day.

Several (some would say a shocking number) of my previous columns have detailed my recent love of drive-in movies. It’s not just that I miss indoor cinemas, though that’s certainly true. I’m also overjoyed at the opportunity to spend three to six hours in my car. I love it in there.

I like Dependable Drive-In in Moon Township except for one thing: It’s too close. I want a longer drive. I may start adding Cleveland-area drive-ins to my routine in the spring.

Some apocryphal truism I heard years ago held that, in a few measurable ways, people are the most content while alone in their cars. Mentally, it’s a clean, tailored environment; you choose what you’re hearing, you choose the temperature, you adjust your seat to your liking. (If indoor furniture were as adjustable as car seats, I’d be fidgeting a lot less.) There is, generally, no one bothering you in the car; even the eternal, nagging distraction of your cell phone is rendered less effective simply by keeping your eyes on the road.

Before March 2020, I got these breaks from stand-up comedy gigs; I’d be booked at some fire hall 60 to 90 minutes from Downtown, affording me two long stretches to clear my head and relax. Lots of comics prefer to carpool, as much for help filling the gas tank as for the camaraderie; while I would never turn down someone in need of a ride, I would always hope that no one would offer to share the journey and thus disrupt my valuable (lonely) sojourn.

Were the nascent phenomenon of the faux-commuters to be analyzed, I’m willing to bet that the majority are not currently living alone. Those of us unfortunate enough to be stuck in a solo living situation during the pandemic are facing a different set of problems, and one I do not envy. I know I’m better off cohabitating at the moment. For all of us with partners, roommates or families in the house, though, we’ve likely lost the vast majority of our time to ourselves.

You need it. We all do.

This has nothing in particular to do with the nature of your relationships, or how well you get along with your partner or roommate. Our brains crave stretches where we are unaffected by the needs, desires and habits of others; even if you’re in the best relationship, there are likely a dozen of your partners’ little habits that have come into stark focus over the past 11 months. That doesn’t mean you’re a jerk — nor does it mean that the person you’re sharing a house with is irritating.

It means you’re not getting enough time to yourself.

If you’re fortunate enough to own a car, and you haven’t found cause to simply exist in it yet, stop looking for an excuse. You don’t need an imitation-brand commute (or a bewildering devotion to outdoor cinema); just drive somewhere. If you don’t own a car, the same advice applies; bike, walk, jog. You’ll get most of the same benefits and, unlike us sedentary motorists, grow healthier.

Yes, I know it’s the winter. Your car has a heater. It probably works better than the one in your house, too. Plus, a little trick I’ve picked up in all of these drive-in trips — you absolutely can have a blanket in the car. Will people think you’re nuts? Sure, but you’ll be too cozy to care.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly