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A SPECIAL REPORT ON TRANSPORTATION : Safe & Sane : When the Freeway Flow Congeals and There Is Fretting in the Fast Lane, Drivers Need Defenses

December 11, 1988|MARCIDA DODSON | Times Staff Writer

B umper to bumper, slow and go, and--with a hard grip on the steering wheel--twist and shout.

That crawl on Orange County's freeways to and from work can lead to the traffic blues, unless you find a way to cope with the stress.

Conducting business on the car telephone, listening to talk shows or classical music, screaming behind rolled-up windows at jerks who cut you off, or just settling back for a long ride, no matter when it delivers you to the office--these are a few of the ways Orange County commuters deal with their drives. Here are the thoughts of several.

There was a time when Don McGarry used to ditch the freeway when the traffic got bad to try his luck on surface streets during his daily 84-mile round-trip commute.

Now when traffic slows to a crawl, he crawls too. But it is not stressful, he said.

"It's just a way of life. You relax and roll with the punches," said McGarry, who drives a pickup truck with his wife, Del, from San Clemente to the family mechanical engineering business in Anaheim. "We just kick back. If we're 15 minutes late, it's no big deal. I used to get upset but no more."

His pet peeve on the road? Truck drivers. "They don't slow down whether the traffic is heavy or light. But I've yet to see many trucks pulled over, other than if they're wrecked," he said.

In the last few years, his drive has gone from 42 minutes to well over an hour. The amount of time beyond an hour depends on any of a number of factors, he said.

"If it rains, it's bad. If the wind blows, it's bad. It's terrible except on a normal day, when nothing goes wrong."

But McGarry, 54, uses the time to think about the business and solve problems. His wife, the office manager, does needlepoint. Together they listen to radio talk shows, a humor show in the morning, a sports show on the ride home. Because their sons open up the business in the morning, no one is upset if they walk in a little late.

They have no plans to move closer to work. "I love the ocean," McGarry said. "They don't have one in Anaheim."

Carrie DeCriscio is on maternity leave these days, and so she is on reprieve from the grueling, hour-plus commute from her Cypress home to her workplace, TRW in Redondo Beach.

"It's a hell of a drive," said DeCriscio, 25, of the 50-mile round trip. She does not drive at the heart of the rush hour--she works from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a security receptionist--but traffic is still bad, she said. "I have to leave at 5:20 in the morning to get there on time."

Although hours involved in caring for a newborn are not any better, DeCriscio--whose household also includes 10-year-old Joseph and 3-year-old Andrew, in addition to 4-month-old Blake--is not looking forward to resuming the strain of the commute.

"I'm rushing to leave. I'm rushing to get back. I just want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible."

The stress is not so bad on the drive in to work, when she is rested, she said. But on the way home, tired from the job and eager to be with her family, "sometimes I can't stand it," she said.

And she carries the stress home with her.

"I see it in my mood, in my patience and tolerance. By the time I get home, my tolerance is low. . . . And we never get a home-cooked meal during the week. Who wants to cook a meal after you've just spent an hour and a half on the freeway?"

She used to listen to traffic reports in her Ford Taurus, but no longer. "If you listen and take another route, the traffic's just backed up on the other route." So now she listens to music to soothe her nerves.

Still, she and her husband have no plans to move. "I can't stand the South Bay. City traffic is so ridiculous. I'd probably spend just as much time on the city streets getting to work. When I try to go to the mall on my lunch hour, it's a joke."

"I don't drive alone by choice," said Arianne Overturf, who leaves her El Toro condominium at 5:30 a.m. each day to get to her job as an art director in Irvine by 6 a.m. "I wouldn't mind car-pooling, but no one starts at the same hour."

Still, she finds there are plenty of other commuters on the San Diego Freeway with her at that early hour.

"Traffic is bad, even at the time I leave," said Overturf, 30. "If I leave any later than 6, there is a lot to deal with, and that's shocking to me. I'm not even in prime-time traffic, and there's so much of it."

She used to live closer to work but moved south, 18 miles from her job, to buy an affordable home. She doubts that she could move closer because of Irvine's high housing prices.

Traffic even affects her life after work. "Friday nights, Saturday nights, Sunday mornings can be bad," she said. "I find myself planning alternate routes." If a weekend outing takes her to the northern part of the county, "I'll figure out another way to come back, other than the Santa Ana Freeway," she said.

She finds the traffic stressful because "it keeps getting worse. It's not just some temporary situation. And I don't see anything being done."

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