The Commuter

Cartoon convertible driving a narrow 2-lane road

The Commuter

Words and music by: Tim Tompkins.


I’ve become a commuter lately
at seven and five.  It’s not a bad drive
to the factory and home, the round trip’s only 34 miles
down a low-country two-lane road
that navigates crumbling cliffs, a little river
and fields of crop rows.

You’ve got your bright broccoli, crisp spinach,
five kinds of lettuce, cabbages, onions, garlic,
tomato spheres and asparagus spears.
Where the salad green valley meets the rolling hills,
you’re likely to find me twice a day,
as long as our salaries cover the bills we must pay.

Mortgage and food, utilities, telephone,
auto insurance, service and gas,
Honey, how will we manage to sock some away
for that fabled rainy day?
Woops! a deep soaking loosens the hillside,
boulders and mud come down in the lanes,
traffic blocked for hours while bulldozers play.
It’s all part of the fun now.

At seven o’clock I head off to work
where we make industrial temperature controls.
At five I avoid colliding with chaos on wheels.
What’s the highway hurry?
Surviving, I reunite with my sweet heart
who’s home from her own five-minute commute
on foot (when weather is good.)
I think she’s the cutest librarian in the hood.

I’m lucky
to feel well-needed, part of a team,
by day and at nighttime too, it gets me through
the occasional blues of a byway user
taking his place among those in pursuit
of their morning and afternoon,
morning and aft~,
of their morning and afternoon business commute.


With only intermittent appearance on the radar screen of my awareness, the tune had been condensing in my inner ear for many months around a granule of inconsistency, the way a rain drop may condense around a particle high in the air: the missing eighth note in the 3rd complete 6/8 measure. When I walked to it, my 4-measure gait became 5 steps + quick-step + 2 steps = 8 non-uniform beats. Eventually the little trick demanded to be born as a song, and the natural extension for a “B” part was to lean into the rhythmic inconsistency every other measure such that the outlaw became legitimate. Not through calculation, but (dare I say it?) by feel. The lyrics were simply my observations during the half-hour commute to and from work everyday, until I discovered that I didn’t know what I was looking at. Frances came to the rescue, bringing home a San Benito County agriculture report that listed the crops that grow around here. The whole process of writing and producing the song surprised me: direct and swift. The first people outside our immediate family to hear the new song were Danny Valdez and his wife Armida, who lived two blocks away. Their delight meant the birth was complete.  [Tim]

Performance Credits:

Performed by Tim (voice, acoustic instruments and MIDI), except trombone by Carl Azevedo.

Production Credits:

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Tim at the GallopAway Music studio in San Juan Bautista, CA,
except trombone recorded at Monterey Bay Recording Studio in Castroville, CA.

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