Dying fish, kids, and the perils of cross-country commuting


Work can sometimes take us to unexpected places. Sometimes on the other side of the country, sometimes on the other side of the world. With the invention of the passenger plane not quite a century ago, it became possible to work almost anywhere. 

Like the advent of the personal computer and the “paperless revolution” that never quite happened, the advent of the internet has led to more travel, not less. Because of the internet we can now find more connections, more opportunities and more interesting jobs. And many of us take advantage of these opportunities, mainly because a particular out-of-market job is so appealing, or because job opportunities at home are limited, or just because the logistics of moving a household across the country are too daunting. In any case, it’s just easier to hop on a plane.

And it’s not just jobs. Project work often takes the same pattern. Today’s projects can last months or even years, especially on large corporate contracts. So, like entertainers, workers of all kinds now shuttle long distance to and from their work.

I happen to be on one of these projects. I work with classical musicians, some of whom also commute long distance to be on the job weeks or months at a time, punctuated with regular trips back home. While I’ve travelled for business a lot in the past, this is the first time I’ve done this kind of commute, or as I’ve discovered through a little Googling, a “super-commute”. Apparently, it’s a growing trend.

According to one BBC story, in 2014 there were 251,200 super-commuters regularly travelling into Houston, Texas, comprising 13.2 percent of the city’s workforce. An estimated 300,000 Lebanese workers commute to the Persian Gulf for work, and one London police office commuted to his beat from New Zealand, 19,300 kms. away, working two months on and one month off.

As for me, I just finished a week back home after four weeks on the job. It was great to be home. With a good high-speed internet connection I was able to take care of business in the office, while getting some work done in my quieter home office. So far so good. Plus I put in some time on house maintenance, doing dishes and hanging out with the kids.

I took the youngest with me on a grocery run to town this morning. After we got done she wanted to walk down to the dock. It had rained last night and the air was still heavy and humid, and the tourists in town were dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, a lot of them sauntering down the half kilometre-long dock jutting out into the bay. 

Down at the end of the dock a half-dozen anglers were casting out on the water. “Cool!” my daughter shouted as she ran past them, spotting a white plastic pail filled with fish. “Gross!” she said, as she caught sight of the small fish bodies submerged in the bloody water. A moment later an old woman in a Tilley hat and striped shirt started tugging on her rod. “Cool!” my daughter shouted again, anticipating seeing a fish on the end of the line. Instead, there were three fish on the end of the line, all small and thrashing wildly. 

“Do you want to touch it?” asked the woman’s husband, deftly de-hooking the fish and laying it on the dock. “Cool,” she said again, reaching out for the fish and picking it up. As she did I watched the man shove his finger into another fish’s mouth, quickly pulling back its head, breaking its neck. It went limp as he tossed it into the bucket. I looked back at my daughter’s fish. Like the others it was young, it looked like a brown trout to me, smooth with glowing greenish-brown and black leopard markings. A thing of beauty. I turned away as the man picked it up and put his finger down its throat.

“I like fish, Dad,” my daughter said, looking back. “Do they have to die?” she asked rhetorically, quickly jumping ahead.“I like to eat fish,” she said. By this time I had a lot of thoughts bumping together in my head. I like to eat fish too. Killing them not so much. What about overfishing? The predicted end of the fin fishery? Eating meat and climate change? The slowing Gulf Stream? The environmental cost of my commuting?

But now all that is slipping into memory. I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight. It’s been delayed. I’ll miss my connector flight in Toronto, where I’ll be overnighting in a some hotel courtesy of the airline. Then up early for the morning flight. Another fish running upstream.

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