City Mouse, Country Mouse

My commute sure is different these days…

Billund, Denmark is a far cry from the Bay Area, and even though we live at the far south end of town, my entire commute to work now takes about 10 minutes. A 5 minute drive and then a 5 minute walk.

First though, let’s look at what it took to get from our house in the Moraga hills (East Bay, on the other side of the ridge/redwoods from Oakland) to my office in San Francisco.

This was the view outside our front door every morning. Our house was high up on a hill overlooking the rest of the neighborhood. Pretty great way to start each day! Sometimes the deer would be out there to stare at me. Bastards ate all of our flowers. Or I’d have to avoid stepping on big fat orange-bellied newts after it rained.

Then I would drive 10 minutes north to the next town, Orinda. Some days I parked in the BART lot, but if I got there later than 7:30, the spots would be gone! (Dear BART, expand your parking lots!) Luckily, there was a little-known Park and Ride lot a bit further in Orinda, tucked behind the police station. After that, it was a 10 minute walk to the train station.

Some days, I would skip the train and do Casual Commute instead, which is a unique Bay Area arrangement. It’s essentially organized hitchhiking.

Riders line up at a designated spot – in this case, the local Starbucks. Drivers come by and pick us up, 2 at a time. Yes, you get in a complete stranger’s car each morning. You say hi, they say hi, you all buckle up, and off you go. Drivers get to use the HOV lane and skip the horrific lines at the tolls going over the Bay Bridge. Riders get a free trip to the city, and sometimes get to listen to NPR, or Enya’s Greatest Hits if you wound up with the Mitt Romney lookalike in the white Lexus.

This sort of thing probably wouldn’t be safe in every city, but it worked great here, and was a much nicer way to get to work than smushing into a crowded BART train.

Oh, and best reason to do casual commute? This view every morning:


Anyway, today we’re taking the train. Total ride time, about 30 minutes.

Get off at Embarcadero station, press in with all the other cattle/commuters up the escalators, and then out onto the street. Foggy and gray many days in the city, but this day it was beautiful weather.

After that, a 10-15 minute walk north through the Financial District and to the Waterfront District, which is tucked in just east of Chinatown and southeast of North Beach. The area used to be part of the notorious Barbary Coast in the 1860s – gambling houses, brothels, opium dens, and places to get your head caved in by thugs and criminals – but now it’s just a nice place to get Blue Bottle Coffee, good burritos from the food truck on Sansome, or cheap sandwiches from the two Chinese women (we called them Smiley and the Judge) at the hole-in-the-wall deli on Pacific.

One thing I loved about working in San Francisco is that you get to experience city life at eye-level. You pass people on the street, often the same ones every day. You pay attention to what people are wearing. You listen in on snatches of conversation. Peek in store windows. Keep an eye out for dog (or human) poop land mines. You enjoy being in a big city. I missed that when we lived in Phoenix and I was sitting in traffic most days.

And then here’s the office. Total commute time, a little more than an hour. Plus I was usually one of the first ones there…

Here in Billund, it’s much easier getting to work – it’s just hard getting out of the house! It’s dark in the morning, so the kids don’t like to wake up. B just bought a natural light alarm clock which makes it a bit easier for the two of us (complete with cheerful bird recordings that loop over and over and over). Finally, we get everyone dressed, fed, bundled up, and out the door.

Then a short 5 minute drive north through sleepy neighborhoods to get to the town center, where the boys’ school is located.

Say goodbye to B, who drives back home. I walk the boys into the school, get E situated in his classroom, and then walk to the office. Note the creepy statue of a boy making friends with a giant schnauzer.

The town center is small. I mean really small. And right now it’s dominated by a big construction site, which will eventually be the new LEGO Idea House, a super-modern, gorgeous visitors’ center. You can read more about it here:

Cut through a plaza behind a bank, and walk past one of the many LEGO buildings that make up the east part of town, and then there’s my office. And that’s as far as we go, because you know, secrets.

So yeah, I miss the excitement of the city (and those views of the city when I’d catch a ride across the Bay Bridge!) but on the other hand: 10 minute commute! Maybe when we get another clear day we’ll do some more pics around Billund so you can see what the rest of our new town looks like.


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