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5:47 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

Tales From The Commute: How NPR Gets To Work

As you've probably heard already, Morning Edition has been taking a look at the variety of experiences we have getting to and from our jobs in the series, U.S. Commutes: The Way We Get To Work.

With stories about taking to the skies to help address commuting stresses and the ever more congested reverse commute, we figured the Morning Edition staff must have gotten their inspiration for this coverage from someplace close to their hearts (or car keys). So we asked around the NPR Newsroom and our Member Stations to find some great tales of commuting experiences in public radio.

Residents Happy Without the News

A typical work 'day' for Morning Edition Supervising Senior Editor Kitty Eisele actually wraps up around 1 a.m., after she's spent a better part of the night assembling stories for the next day's show (or that day depending on how you look at it).

"After a night of some terrorism, or fractured politics, or lost tape, or too-fast thinking and writing, it is the most serene part of my day," Eisele says. "I drive home... through silent Washington, mostly asleep, except for the wildlife. They're ALL awake and ready to play."

On many nights as she returns home, Eisele encounters a small circle of deer sleeping in the moonlit meadow behind her apartment building. Eisele lives near Rock Creek Park, a nearly 3,000 acre green space that creates an animal highway right through the heart of the nation's capital. During her daily commute she often sees coyote, fox, raccoon and many other creatures crossing the imagined barriers between the natural and the urban.

"After many years in Washington, I feel like I know a whole new city whose residents are perfectly happy without the news," Eisele says.

Slugging Along, But Not at a Snail's Pace

When Tell Me More Editorial Assistant Bridget De Chagas wakes up in the morning, she doesn't know whose car will take her to work or how many people she will be riding with. That's because De Chagas is a slug.

Slugs are casual carpoolers that are given free rides from suburbs into cities by drivers looking to gain access to faster and less congested high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The practice, called slugging, is common in a number of cities around the country including San Francisco, Houston and here, in Washington, D.C.

Each morning, De Chagas lines up with hundreds of other commuters in one of the slug-designated parking lots and waits to be picked up by a commuter who will drive her into the city, hopefully dropping her off somewhere near the NPR headquarters.

After work, the process reverses: De Chagas joins a line in the city until a driver arrives with a destination close the parking lot where De Chagas waited in the morning.

Slugging is a culture unto itself, with its own set of rules, De Chagas says. For example a woman can never be left alone in a slug line and slugs are not allowed to initiate conversation with drivers or change the music playing the car.

"On occasion I still get stuck in a stinky car with loud music, no air and broken seat belts," she says. "But for the most part, I feel lucky to be a slug. It's free and I get to meet new people and learn the city."

Braving the Elements and Enjoying the Scenery

There are many NPR and Member Station staffers who use their own power to get to work: pedal power.

At Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence, Operations and Production Manager James Baumgartner and I.T. & Engineering Director Aaron Read are both bike commuters who have developed a thick skin to face the sometimes brutal New England winters. They almost make it sound like a stroll on the beach.

"The challenges of riding in snow have never bothered me much," Read says. "I'll probably invest in metal-studded tires and a decent foul-weather suit, but that's it. I rode in blizzards all the time when I lived in Boston."

While many bikers might be forced onto the bus by harsh Rhode Island winters, Baumgartner seems to barely notice.

"Before moving to Rhode Island, I lived for 2 years in Edmonton, Alberta," Baumgartner says. "I biked almost every day, including when the temperature got down to 33 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit... Living in Alberta completely changed my perspective on extremely cold temperatures... If the road conditions are looking particularly slick, I'll take the bus, but this only happens about five times per winter."

NPR Director of Operations and Special Projects Kim Bryant finds that biking, unlike driving (unless you're slugging), allows her the opportunity to interact with her neighbors along the way.

Her ride to work takes her right by the U.S. Capitol Building, where she enjoys the "good mornings" from the Capitol Police officers patrolling around the federal buildings.

The policemen near the Senate office buildings might tease her for walking her bike while she slows down to enjoy the gardens in nearby government lawns. It's all good-natured of course, Bryant says.

"One of them helped me search in the pitch dark for 10 minutes a couple of weeks ago for parts of my bike light when I accidentally knocked it off my handlebars," she says.

"For a week in the spring, I cross Pennsylvania Avenue immersed in the fragrance of eight long blocks of flowering crabapple trees," Bryant says. "I sometimes take detours just so I can prolong the seasonal gift."


Johnny Kauffman is an intern in NPR's Marketing, Branding and Communications division. He grew up listening to WVPE in Elkhart, IN.

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