Long way home takes on whole new meaning

April 17, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

Meet Dave Givens. He's certifiably insane.

OK, that's not true. Actually, speaking on the phone from the San Jose, Calif., offices of Cisco Systems Inc., where he's an electrical engineer, Givens sounds like a pleasant man fully grounded in reality.

But lots of people who hear his story might think he's nuts. See, Givens has a long commute to work each day.

Sure, lots of people have long commutes.

But not like this guy. No, Givens should have his own wing in the Commuters Hall of Fame.

Let's go right to the stat sheet, shall we?

Givens, 46, drives 3 1/2 hours - one way - to get to his job in San Jose.

Then he drives 3 1/2 hours, or about 186 miles, to get back home to his small ranch in woodsy Mariposa, on the other side of the state near Yosemite National Park.

And he does this five days a week.

You talk about a Road Warrior. They ought to bronze the guy's Honda Accord and stick it in the lobby at Cisco Systems with a plaque on it.

Instead, Givens will settle for winning the recent "America's Longest Commute" contest put on by Midas, the auto service company, and the $10,000 in gas money and car maintenance that goes with it.

"I was quite surprised to win," Givens said when I reached him the other day. "I always assumed there was somebody who commuted farther than I did."

Uh, Dave? Marco Polo didn't commute as far as you do.

(For the record, there were 3,000 entries in the "Longest Commute" contest. The second-place winner, an American Airlines employee at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, had a 175-mile, one-way commute. And the third-place winner commutes 164.4 miles one-way to her job with the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition in North Carolina.)

To begin his daily commuting adventure, Givens rises between 3:30 and 4 in the morning in the house he shares with his wife, Connie. (Their two kids are grown and on their own.) He's out the door by 4:30.

For the next 3 1/2 hours, he's staring at a lot of asphalt, not to mention the taillights of seemingly every other commuter in Northern California.

So what does he do stuck in the car all that time? Besides drink enough coffee to float a whale?

"A lot of audio books," he says. "And listen to XM Radio. I do some cell-phoning, but not much."

And that's it?

Me, I'd be working on the biggest case of road rage ever documented.

I'd be shaking so bad by the time I got to work, I'd have to find an 8 a.m Happy Hour before I could even turn on my computer.

But Givens is ex-military - he spent 11 years as an electronics engineer in the Navy - and is used to a disciplined approach to everything, including commuting.

He says he doesn't speed.

"I stay with the traffic ... 70, 75 miles per hour," he says. And in the 17 years he's been making this hellish commute, he says he's never picked up so much as a parking ticket.

He's had one accident ("It was the other people's fault") and only three flat tires. And he's almost never late to work, he says.

Still, it's safe to say the seven-hours-on-the-road lifestyle is not for everyone.

Givens leaves the office at about 5 each afternoon and doesn't get home until about 8:30, at which time he passes out in the foyer from exhaustion.

OK, that's not true, either.

Mostly what he does for the next hour and a half is catch up with Connie and find out how her day went.

"The `honey-do's' have to wait 'til the weekends," he says.

Then at about 10, it's time to hit the sack so he can - YA-HOO! PARTY TIME! - get up 5 1/2 hours later and do it all over again.

Listening to all this, a question immediately forms in the mind of the listener.

Uh, Dave? Ever think about doing something really radical like, you know, moving closer to work?

So you don't have to spend seven hours a day in the Hotel Honda watching the walls close in?

"Not really," Givens says after a pause. "Simply because I can't maintain the same outdoor lifestyle."

Then Givens goes on to tell you that he and Connie have horses on their little ranch, which is hard by Yosemite National Park and sounds green and leafy and like a little slice of heaven way out there in Mariposa County.

Plus he's a member of the local Search and Rescue team, which is a great way to let off steam after running in the rat race all week and watching the numbers on the Accord's odometer whiz by.

He'll be back in the car at 4:30 this morning, fueled by coffee and adrenaline, eyes peeled for the nut jobs who do 90 while weaving in and out of traffic.

Some people have all the fun.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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