Generic buildings reach into the sky in downtown Hartford, hovering over the stylish restaurants that feed and water suits after long commutes. The people of Hartford lament local coffee shops closing down, but bypass these local merchants, preferring to stop in Starbucks on their way out of the city for work.
It’s been said before and holds true, much of Connecticut is square miles of accommodations and parking for New York City. Still I’m looking for inspiration but instead find a $10 parking lot across from a sushi restaurant that has WiFi.
Chip sits down at the bar with three others, empty chairs acting as spacers. The question is posed by a woman that works in the restaurant industry if he’s from Hartford or here on vacation.
The bartender pipes up, “No one vacations here.”
In Hartford on business, Chip works for a consultancy that was asked by another consultancy to help The Travelers Companies, an American insurance company, deliver software. According to Chip, “I’m a third party to the third party.”
Monday through Thursday, Travelers flies him from Richmond, Virginia, to Hartford. It’s about three hours of flight time.
Since he doesn’t fly back and forth everyday, Chip isn’t an “extreme commuter,” the 2.41% of U.S. citizens that travel more than 90 minutes each way to work, according to the Census Bureau. It may be hard to believe, but there are 2.2 million Americans whose daily commute is actually worse. So-called “mega commuters” travel 50+ miles for 90+ minutes each way.
“It sucks,” Chip says, drawing out the word. “Financially, it’s rewarding. I’m setting us up for what’s next.”
Chip leaves his wife and two kids, including an 18-month old, in Richmond each week.
“There’s perks, like airline miles that generate free flights and free hotel stays,” he says. Chip stays in a hotel each week. The Residence Inn, supposedly one of the more economical in the city, is about $250 per night, which means I’ll be using the Escape as a crash pad tonight.
He doesn’t particularly mind the hotels, even though he thinks it would be cheaper for the company to get him a second apartment. “They don’t care about that, so it’s fine, I’ll take the [airline] miles.”
It’s getting late and Chip asks for the menu. Chip loves his job, but the constant travel is draining.
The bartender hands him the late night menu and says he’s got to hurry and get his order in.
“Most of the sushi chefs here live in [New York City] … so they usually want to leave just a little bit early to catch the last bus to Chinatown,” the bartender says.
Hartford to New York City is a three and a half hour trip by bus, if you’re lucky. The chefs are mega-commuters. They don’t accumulate airline miles or rack up free hotel stays, and their wages are likely far lower than a consultants.
The bartender makes Chip and I a shot. It’s quiet. Every once in awhile one of us asks the other a question. For a transient, there’s comfort in those moments of connection, in strangers seemingly giving a shit about your life.
While the stress of airport security, buses without proper shocks and heavy traffic takes a toll, these laborers find respite through travel. Whether they’re the drivers or passengers, travelers share a similar experience, the release of knowing if you follow this road you know where you’re headed.