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There and back again: Commuting from the SCV

Posted: September 5, 2009 7:40 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Commuter Bonnie Joseph backs out of her Stevenson Ranch garage at 5:30 a.m. as she begins her 90-mile morning commute to San Bernardino. Joseph works at Patton State Mental Hospital four days a week.

 
It's nearly 5 a.m. on an ordinary Thursday.

The sun's not up yet, but Bonnie Joseph, 27, of Stevenson Ranch is.

Bonnie works as a clinical social worker at Patton State Mental Hospital.

She commutes to work four days a week - to San Bernardino.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Bonnie's alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m.

After hitting the snooze button a couple of times, Bonnie heads to the kitchen to make coffee.

"Coffee is a must," she says.

A quick trip outside with Bailey the dog, then Bonnie grabs her coffee and her purse, and she's out the door by 5:30 a.m.

She starts her 2005 Nissan Sentra, puts her Bluetooth in her right ear and begins her 90-mile commute to work.

A long-time commuter
The Interstate 5 freeway is her first companion.

The freeway is now familiar territory; Bonnie Joseph and her husband, Peter, moved to Stevenson Ranch in 2005.

Previously residents of Laguna Niguel, the couple moved to the Santa Clarita Valley after Peter took a job as the director of youth ministries at Valencia United Methodist Church.

"He used to commute (to Valencia) from Laguna," Bonnie said. "He did it for six weeks. It was horrible for him."

"Now it takes him a minute to get to work," she said. "He'll tell me how quickly he gets to work and I'll be like, ‘Do you want me to punch you in the face?'"

Bonnie first started interning at Patton State Mental Hospital in 2007 when she was working toward a master's degree in social work at Long Beach State University.

No one else wanted to take the internship because of the 50-mile drive to get there, she said.

The internship offered a unique opportunity to work and interact with patients with bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, Bonnie said. "It was something I was interested in doing."

"I was told that Patton is where the DSM (diagnostic statistical manual of mental disorders) comes to life."

The commute between Long Beach and San Bernardino was much worse than her current commute, Bonnie said.

While the distance she covers between Stevenson Ranch and San Bernardino was greater, the traffic was significantly heavier driving to and from Long Beach.

"Driving between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (on Los Angeles-area freeways) and being in that sort of traffic would drive a person insane."

Worth the drive
One would think driving 90 miles to work and 90 miles back home four times a week would do the same thing.

But Bonnie says the job is worth it.

"It all started when I saw Silence of the Lambs in junior high school," she said. "It just intrigued me."

Bonnie's title at work is clinical social worker. She works in one of six units.

"My main job is to administer admission assessments, pyscho-social assessments and to develop treatment plans."

She also provides crisis intervention, counseling, and discharge planning as well as serving as a liaison with outside agencies and families.

Bonnie's unit predominately works with short-term patients.

"Our goal is to address the needs of these patients in order to get them competent enough to return to court."

So much gas
It's still dark when Bonnie reaches her second companion on her route to work - Interstate 210.

"I don't want to say that the 210 never has traffic, but it rarely does - especially in comparison to the freeways going through L.A."

Bonnie comfortably zoomed at 75 miles per hour in the fast lane as she merged onto the freeway.

"I couldn't (commute) somewhere in L.A. (again)," she said. "I'd rather be moving (driving a longer distance) than be stuck in traffic."

Gas guzzles about $250 from Bonnie's wallet every month.

"It's much better now with the gas prices lower," she said.

At gas prices' height in the summer of 2008, Bonnie and her husband were paying up to $500 a month to satisfy their transportation needs.

"I tank up twice a week. He tanks up once a month ... it added up."

The Josephs considered changing something in their situation - moving closer to the hospital, finding another job - if the prices stayed high, or worse, continued to rise.

"But the prices are low now, so it's nice."

Just one
Bonnie listens to Kevin and Bean in the mornings.

Kevin and Bean is a FM morning talk show on 106.7 KROQ, an alternative rock-format radio station in Los Angeles hosted by Kevin Ryder and Gene "Bean" Baxter.

The show intersperses music and news with comedy bits, celebrity interviews, listener call-ins and live music performances.
"They are hilarious," Bonnie said.

Driving on a relatively empty freeway one morning, Bonnie lost herself in the show and stopped paying attention to her speed.

A policeman pulled up behind her and tailed her for a few miles.

She failed to notice the patrol car in her rear view mirror.

As she descended past the La Crescenta exit on the I-210, her speed naturally picked up - the hand of the speedometer creeping past the 85 marker.

The voices of Kevin and Bean were quickly drowned out by sirens blaring from behind.

"The police officer told me he was tailing me for a bit to give me a chance to slow down," Bonnie said. "He also told me to check my mirrors more."

Despite her tears in an attempt to get out of it, the officer gave her her first ticket.

"Crying didn't work," Bonnie said.

With all the time Bonnie spends on the road, she's only received one ticket.

"With no cars on the road, I feel silly going less than 75 (mph)," Bonnie said as she drove that speed, constantly looking in her rear view mirror.

So many options
It was getting progressively lighter as Bonnie approached the part of her commute where Highway 134 and the I-210 merge, but the sun was veiled in overcast.

Bonnie particularly enjoyed the weather since on clear days the sun is in her face both directions.

"The wintertime is always nice. The fog sits longer," she said.

Bonnie looked into other means of transportation, but none of them fit her needs.

She looked into carpooling with other co-workers through a program called "ride share."

"I'm not the only commuter at the hospital," she said. "But the nearest (co-worker) lives in Pasadena."

Metrolink wasn't for her, either.

"I looked into it and it would take twice as long," Bonnie said. "It's just not worth it."

Besides the time issue, the Chatsworth Metrolink collision that killed 25 people curbed any enthusiasm Bonnie might have had to be a rail commuter.

In the end, she prefers to have her own car - just in case something happens and she needs to get going quickly.

"I just don't like feeling out of control," she said. "I don't like that feeling of not having my car. It's my sense of security. Plus, I don't like being at the mercy of someone's schedule."

Half-way there
Enjoying a sunglasses-free drive to work, Bonnie passed Azusa Avenue - her "mental" half-way point.

"I don't know if it's accurate according to mileage, but whenever I pass this point, I tell myself I'm half-way there."

Before moving to Stevenson Ranch, Bonnie and her husband looked at homes in Glendale and Pasadena - roughly the center between their two jobs.

After weighing the pros and cons, the Josephs decided neither location was for them.

"If we were both commuting, it would have been worse," she said.

As the director of youth ministries, Peter works around people's schedules.

Bonnie works a fixed schedule.

He works five days a week.

She works four.

"It's just easier for me to commute," she said.

The ride home
Bonnie still listens to Kevin and Bean in the mornings.

"I'm not really a music person. I like NPR stuff."

At Rancho Cucamonga, Kevin and Bean get "a bit fuzzy, so I switch to NPR."

She thinks the talk stations are better in the morning, which is convenient because she has other plans on her ride home.

"It's too early to call people in the morning, so I use my ride home to catch up with people on the phone."

Bonnie often calls her parents, who live in Colorado, but spends the majority of the time talking to her husband.

"I never leave home without my Bluetooth," she said.

When she's not chatting away, she's unwinding and reflecting from her day at work.

"I think about the day. What went well, what we need to work on, etcetera."

Traffic is rare on the way to work for Bonnie.

"Unless there's an accident, there really is no traffic."

She said she usually hits traffic on the way back home, though, typically near Monrovia, past Highway 134.

"It's pretty frequent in that area, where the 210 and 134 split."

Her worst drive home was Christmas Eve in 2008.

Getting home took three hours.

"It's the worst when you're so close to home and you hit traffic."

To burn out, or not to burn out
"I wake up telling myself, ‘You're going to burn out, you're going to burn out,'" Bonnie said. "Twelve hours a week spent on the road seems like such a waste of time."

But Bonnie's love for her job makes it worth driving 180 miles four times a week, she says.

"I really love what I do, so I'll just wait until I burn out," she said. "I do something new every day, and it's challenging. It's a good job."

The benefits outweigh the disadvantages for Bonnie.

For now.

"I don't have kids," she said. "Things could change when (my husband and I) start a family."

But for now, Bonnie will continue to drive.

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