If there's one thing I miss about working from home during lockdown, it's the commute-free mornings.
Gone are the days when I could roll out of bed half an hour before logging on to work, sit outside for a leisurely coffee and breakfast and soak in the morning.
Instead, I now find myself having reverted back to scoffing down whatever I can muster up as I simultaneously race out the door.
And it was yesterday morning's commute chaos that nearly pushed me past the breaking point.
It took me nearly two hours to get to work in Auckland City, from Glen Eden - a 14km journey. Why? Two words that strike fear into the hearts of all 20-somethings living in an Auckland suburb and working in the central city: public transport.
Sitting on the 22N City Centre despondently staring out the bus window (whose leaky seal was letting in the rain), I wondered where it all went wrong.
I'd finally worked out my 40-minute commute with planned precision, taking a train from the station near my house and then switching to a bus that takes me to within a block of my office. But over the past couple of months, that commute has stretched to an hour, then to an hour and a half, culminating in yesterday's slog that amounted to more than the time it takes to drive from Auckland to Hamilton.
If it's not traffic causing delays, it's the harbour bridge closure. Or it's roadworks on Symonds St or Queen St. Or it's maintenance on the train lines meaning a 40km/h speed limit, or track faults or bad weather causing services to be cancelled or delayed. What used to be an efficient commute is now a morning of torture punctuated with apology texts to my coworkers and mini existential crises to the soundtrack of the same Spotify playlist on repeat.
The time it takes to get where I'm going isn't the only issue I have with public transport.
It's sitting in traffic on a bus parked so claustrophobically close to another bus they're practically touching, surrounded by people just as annoyed as I am. It's the sense of impending doom as my phone battery drains and I sit slowly filling with rage.
After this long, a sense of acceptance develops. The bus is now my home. I don't want to think about how many hours I've spent on grimy seats gazing out of the window like the protagonist in a rom-com (while actually resembling a haggard and sleep-deprived Dickens orphan damp from waiting at bus stops in the rain).
Then when my stop finally approaches, it's reaching for the bell only to find that it's broken, so I reach for the one behind me which doesn't work either, resulting in either a) an awkward manoeuvre across the aisle and over another person or b) making awkward eye contact with said person to get them to press the button for me because c) they didn't hear me the first time I asked.
Did I mention the often malfunctioning bus card top-up machines at several of the train stations? Or the buses arriving either too late or too early for you to catch them, despite careful planning on the app?
The one hangover from levels 3 and 2.5 I do enjoy is that people still shy away from sitting next to each other, but on the downside, it means that often you end up standing when the train is packed.
I've accidentally crashed couples' long-distance FaceTime sessions more often than I care to admit and overheard several heated conversations I'd rather forget. I've sat behind screaming children and grumpy old people, watched people's shopping bags fly across aisles when the driver brakes too hard, and taken many an ungraceful tumble myself when the bus starts moving before I've found a seat. Sitting on a bus parked diagonally across crowded lanes on Victoria St, I feel like Frodo on the slopes of Mt Doom.
It's not the bus or train drivers' fault. Most are cheerful people who greet you with a smile and help you figure out your route in what is a convoluted and understaffed transport system. It's times like these I wish Auckland had a tram system, let alone light rail.
But, you'll say "Why don't you just drive to work?"
Because parking during the week in the CBD easily costs around $20-$25 a day. That's over $100 a week. Because the problem of traffic is identical, whether you're on a jam-packed bus or adding to carbon emissions and congestion in a one-person vehicle. Add to that the cost of petrol, and the sheer tiredness at the end of the day making for less than ideal driving conditions.
The only other solution is to move closer to work, but that's easier said than done in the hot Auckland rental market.
My commute across the city just shouldn't take longer than the time it takes to drive to Hamilton - 122 km away from central Auckland.
And with that, I'm heading off on the journey home - and bidding farewell to another two hours of my life.