It’s September and school is back in session. Here in California it is staggered, private schools go back at different times than public schools, and the colleges are on another schedule altogether.

All of it means much more traffic. In the summertime my commute is easy, as much as any Los Angeles commute can be easy. There are fewer cars and less stress and it’s simple to forget that there are certain times of year when traffic is monstrous.

The first weeks of school are those times. The traffic around the schools goes from non-existent to incredible, the crush of cars exponentially greater than the week before. In certain places the school hires a private traffic cop to “help” direct traffic. Other times it’s simply that there are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of additional cars attempting to turn into a school parking lot and backing up into the street around the school. It adds a layer of complexity—and frustration—to my already lengthy drive. The twelve-mile commute that takes forty minutes in summer becomes over an hour the minute school traffic is added back in.

I am sure my parents dropped me off at school sometimes, even if I don’t remember it. My recollection of school, at least in Brookline, was of walking there, my head usually buried in a book. I don’t remember being dropped off those first days, but I bet I was. As a commuter passing the school I don’t get to see the tearful goodbyes, the terrified yet excited faces of the kids new to the school, or the weary (or wary) parents as they let their children fly to their new adventure. It’s a rite of passage every year.

Just as it is now a rite of passage for those of us with similar routes to complain about it. We discuss various ways around the four way stop with the traffic cop directing traffic into the school and letting those of us waiting to get through languish. We moan about the added press of cars on the streets. Few of us in my office have children of school age but we are as much a part of the first days of school as they are. Or so it seems to us.

There is no good answer, of course. California is a car city and just as the commuters need to use their cars to get to work as there is no direct public transportation so too do parents want to ensure that their precious cargo gets there safely. As tempting as it is to complain (and we do), we realize that this just part of the annual rite of passage. The kids have their first day of school, and we have our traffic discussion. It’s a watercooler discussion, to use old terminology.

Hope your commute is a good one!

Claire

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