From: Rohit Khare (Rohit@KnowNow.com)
Date: Tue Aug 15 2000 - 15:26:19 PDT
August 15, 2000
Road Warriors With Laptops
Drivers Use Gridlock to Get Business Done
By COREY KILGANNON
When he is planning his workweek, Jared L. Gurfein, a Manhattan
lawyer, arranges some of his most important conferences not for an
office or lunch appointment, but for bumper-to-bumper traffic.
On Friday afternoons in the summer, the long, slow drive from
Manhattan to the Hamptons in his BMW 328i is reserved for business
calls "that require real focus," Mr. Gurfein, 30, said.
While beach-bound traffic makes driving east on the Long Island
Expressway excruciatingly slow, negotiations via conference calls
with clients and other people zip right along. When it comes to
discussing a contract with the other side's lawyer, as long as the
task does not require extensive note-taking, there is no better place
than a good traffic jam for focusing the mind, or improving
conference-call performance, he said.
"Your quality of input is higher in the car, no question," he said.
"If you're in the office or your apartment, there are at least 15
things you could be doing, but in the car, there's nothing else to do
but focus on the call. Plus you're moving forward. Mentally, it puts
me in the zone, and I can really concentrate on the phone."
With luxury cars offering increasing levels of comfort and
on-the-road activity options, like built-in computers with Internet
access, more drivers are adopting Mr. Gurfein's traffic-friendly
Many say that they are not only less flustered by bad traffic, but
also learning how to benefit from it, taking care of business on the
road or at least occupying themselves with built-in CD players,
dashboard laptops, Palm Pilots and cell phones.
Traffic is getting worse. There are more cars than ever on the road,
and traffic delays are growing. On Long Island, for example, the
State Department of Transportation estimates that more than 800,000
drivers travel to work by car during the morning rush, half of them
on the Long Island Expressway and the Southern State Parkway. Also,
the number of miles driven by Long Islanders has doubled since the
1970's, according to the state.
Certainly, most drivers say that delays are still delays, no matter
what they are driving. But even many hard-core traffic-haters
acknowledge that jams are more tolerable in today's cars than in
those of yesteryear, in the era before cloth seats and automobile
air-conditioning were standard, when the only driving amenity was AM
Samuel I. Schwartz, a traffic consultant in Manhattan, said that
drivers are becoming more impervious to traffic frustration precisely
because automobiles are equipped with more accessories designed to
distract passengers from the fact that they are, after all, stuck in
"People are simply tolerating much more traffic than they used to,"
he said. "There's less road rage everywhere. In traffic that would
make me pull my hair out, I'm looking around and people are placid."
Many transportation experts have long relied on an imprecise traffic
principle called the "level of intolerability," which essentially
holds that when traffic gets too unbearable, a certain number of
frustrated drivers will give up and use mass transit, preventing
permanent gridlock. But this phenomenon has been disrupted, Mr.
Schwartz said, because people are tolerating traffic better.
Joel Pelinger has converted his sport utility vehicle into a rolling
office because "when you're 12 miles from Manhattan and it takes you
an hour and a half to get there, you've got to find a way to cope
with that." He spends 10 minutes every morning in the driveway of his
home in Haworth, N.J., setting up a desk he attaches to his dashboard.
It holds his laptop, his Palm Pilot, his Global Positioning System
receiver and his three cell phones. To prepare for his drive, he
enters clients' telephone numbers into the memory of one cell phone,
and prints out his business notes in large 16-point typeface. Mr.
Pelinger, whose company, Solar Systems, relocates computer systems
for businesses, spends several workdays a week on the road visiting
clients, and his monthly cell phone bills are about $1,000.
"I know I'm going to hit traffic, so I've learned to take advantage
of it to make it work on my side," he said.
Mr. Pelinger is not alone, according to Richard Retting, a senior
transportation engineer for the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, in Arlington, Va. "Commuter time is no longer just for
driving," he said. "As the comforts of home and the efficiency of the
office creep into the automobile, it is becoming increasingly
attractive as a work space. People can use cell phones and e-mail
from their cars to take advantage of lost time in traffic."
But, he added, "As drivers are bombarded with distractions and so
many other things to do than just drive, you can expect more crashes."
In fact, as the use of cell phones in cars has grown, so has concern
over its threat to driver safety. Many local governments, like one in
Marlboro, N.J., have passed laws banning phone use while driving.
But some drivers do not need the latest telecommuting accessories to
cope with traffic. Jerry Della Femina, the advertising executive who
owns the Della Femina restaurants in Manhattan and East Hampton,
calls traffic "a state of mind."
Mr. Della Femina drives to the Hamptons from Manhattan on most
weekends, usually during peak traffic. "It's an occasion," he said.
"I actually look for traffic sometimes. I make the most of those
During the week, he records several CD's of songs downloaded from the
Internet. He lights a cigar and hops into his Mercedes convertible
(or his Mercedes S.U.V. if he is taking the family). Without traffic,
the 100-mile drive to East Hampton would take slightly more than two
"It's to the point where traffic has become a forced leisure time,"
he said. "Of all the great things in life, to be in your car with
your family listening to music -- it's delicious. So what if it takes
In some cases, it is not just the driver, but the car, that makes a
difference. Israel Joffe, 20, a student at Adelphi University who
lives in Lawrence on Long Island, said that when he encountered
traffic while driving his "hunk of junk" 1997 Saturn, he became
maniacal. But caught in the same traffic in his parents' new Lexus,
with its leather seats, dashboard computer and six-CD changer, he was
as docile as a lamb.
"It's the difference between flying first class and coach," he said.
"Would you rather be sitting in a nice S.U.V. or some crummy Joe
When Henry Larsen of Manhattan used to drive his rusty 1979 Ford
Maverick out to the Hamptons years ago, his leg would cramp up from
operating the clutch. The car had sticky, cracked vinyl seats, a
squeaky eight-track tape player and no air-conditioning or power
steering. The engine often overheated.
But for him, traffic lost much of its sting when S.U.V.'s came out.
At 4 p.m. on Fridays, he and his friends head out to East Hampton in
the roomy leather interior of his silver 1999 Jeep Cherokee.
He said he coped with the traffic by using his six-CD changer and
cell phone, and a laptop computer plugged into the dashboard. Mr.
Larsen, 28, a finance coordinator at an employment agency, said he
made dinner, movie and weekend reservations online from his Jeep.
One feature he rarely uses on his Jeep is the four-wheel drive.
"No one really needs an S.U.V.," he said. "People get them for the
comfort zone. You're up higher, and it's a way to stay above it all."
But for those down below who do not have all the latest frills, life
on the road is not so rosy.
Catherine Hutton sat stuck in traffic last weekend on the Grand
Central Parkway in Queens. President Clinton was in town, and the
police had shut the Triborough Bridge, backing up traffic for miles.
Most of the drivers around her were in late-model cars with the
windows shut and the air-conditioning blasting. Everyone, it seemed,
was chatting on a cell phone, unfazed by the afternoon heat and the
exhaust fumes. But with no working air-conditioner, she had the
windows of her 1986 Toyota Corolla rolled down.
"If I'm a minute late, I lose a day's pay," yelled Mrs. Hutton, who
drives a city bus in the Bronx and is sent home if she does not
arrive on time. She allows more than two hours for her drive from
Howard Beach to the bus depot, but even this is sometimes
insufficient in awful traffic. Then she looked around and said: "No
one cares. They're all on the phone."
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