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Workers Are Rising Before the Rooster Crows

Bet you haven't heard the term "commuting creep."

It's not an obnoxious driver who cuts you off in traffic on the way to work. It's the ever-growing amount of time it takes to get there. The shift of America's population farther and farther from downtown is forcing millions of Americans to get up and start out for work earlier, before highways and commuter trains are hopelessly jammed. This, in turn, has all sorts of effects on people's lives.

Most anyone who had an office job used to work something close to the old "nine to five." There was even a popular song about those day-after-day hours. The lyrics went something like, 'Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin', Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin', The folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.' With that schedule, you could watch the late-night news on TV and maybe a little of the talk shows that followed, get a decent night's sleep, have time for breakfast, and hit the road by eight.

But no more, if you live far from town in what planners call "exurbia."

These days, one in eight American workers is out the door by six a.m. Many skip breakfast and the newspaper, for fear of the traffic beast. They wait to grab a bite and read the paper at the office.

As a result, upscale coffee shops downtown are booming. Early mornings are the busiest hours at fitness centers. Traffic signals that used to be set for a leisurely overnight pace affect a rush-hour pattern by five a.m. Bedtimes are earlier, late-night TV ratings are down, and the newspaper is on the doorstep by five.

Commuters across the country told the USA Today newspaper that every minute counts in the morning. One extra cup of coffee, a stop for gas, or, horror of horrors, an accident up ahead can double commuting times because of the traffic crunch.

There are many advantages to living out in the pleasant surroundings of what used to be the countryside. Commuter creep is not one of them.