A fork in the eye seems a better alternative to the weekday slog across the Dumbarton Bridge, yet Lisa Ynzunza, of Fremont, actually looks forward to her hourlong trip because it gives her time to chat on the phone with an old friend -- hands-free, of course.

Cranky commuters file onto the 5:30 a.m. BART train out of San Leandro, their sleepy eyes mere slits like newborn puppies, but Jan Lister is eager to settle in for her half-hour ride to San Francisco so she can continue reading her daily Bible lesson.

And while most motorists vie for position on the freeway swearing like sailors and Samuel L. Jackson, tax specialist William Huey is singing -- singing! -- as he drives the hour up Interstate 680 from San Jose to Walnut Creek each morning.

"I sing out loud," says Huey, not the least bit embarrassed about it. "I memorize a lot of songs. It calms me, makes me feel good."

Surely these folks have been driven crazy, addled by hours in mind-numbing Bay Area traffic. But no. They're some of the rare members of the workforce who actually enjoy -- yes, enjoy -- long commutes, or have found ways to make their daily trips more pleasant, at least palatable and often even productive. And they're not just looking at the world with rose-colored Ray-Bans.

It is humanly possible to enjoy a commute, says Alan Pisarski, a behavior consultant who has published a series of studies called "Commuting in America." He says some people relish the time to transition to and from the work day, listening to music or audio books. Plus, technology has helped: cellphones keep people from feeling cut off from the world, and traffic alerts can help drivers avoid congested areas.

"Many see it as a time to be alone, for some, maybe the only time," he says. "It can be a time to think about and plan the day. A time to think back on the day's events and ruminate a bit on next steps. A time for musing."

He adds that those who use transit speak of time to sleep, time to chat with friends, time for a newspaper or a book.

"I have never found one who was willing to say that they wished that the trip could be longer so they could read more, however," Pisarski says.

Admittedly, there are times (think: BART strike) when no one in his or her right mind is a happy commuter. And there's no doubt that Bay Area commutes -- especially freeway drives littered with wrecks and rough roads -- have become measurably worse, even during the past year.

In a recent report from INRIX, which monitors traffic nationwide, San Jose now ranks fifth for the worst congestion in the country, up from 13th in 2010. Roadways through San Francisco and Oakland have for years been considered the country's third most congested, following those in Honolulu and Los Angeles. And reports of road rage seem to be on the rise.

But when the commute gets tough, some people get gabbing.

Ynzunza has a best friend she's known since childhood, but the two rarely see each other. "So we talk pretty much every morning on the phone during my commute. Hands-free," she says. "It's really nice to have that time to connect with her, and it helps me be able to cope with the drive."

Twenty years ago, it took about 30 to 35 minutes each way to go the 17 miles over the Dumbarton, says Ynzunza, a legal secretary who works on the Peninsula and drives her 2013 Honda Civic with built-in Bluetooth. "Now it takes close to an hour both morning and evening, even though I use FasTrak. This morning was really bad with a stall on the bridge and a couple accidents on 101.

"So I wouldn't go so far as to say I downright enjoy the commute. But I have been able to manage it to the point where it's just part of my daily life."

Lister, an auditor for a federal agency, is a devout member of a Christian Science church in the East Bay, and loves the opportunity to study Bible passages and pray on her BART trip.

"I like to be snuggled up with God on my commute," she says, chuckling. "If there's something happening on the train, a disturbance, a child crying, I apply that prayerful thought to whatever is going on."

Lister also finds her commute -- which, with the walk to her office in San Francisco, is about an hour door-to-door -- to be a breeze compared to her previous experience in Southern California. "I used to make an hour commute in aggravating bumper-to-bumper on the 405, so this is nothing to me. I adore BART. Then the walk wakes me up in the morning. I have no reason to complain."

Matt Sandoval, of San Jose, says it helps to have a visually pleasant route. For the past three years, he has made the off-hours drive over Highway 17 in his Subaru wagon from San Jose to Cabrillo College in Aptos to study organic food production, then he'd drive from Aptos to Milpitas for his night job.

"People would ask me, 'Don't you hate the drive?' And I would emphatically respond, 'No! I love the drive.' Instead of snaking through snarling traffic, I get to drive though the beautiful woods of the Santa Cruz Mountains every day. It's the total nature effect."

Huey, in addition to singing a happy tune on his daily I-680 drive, also listens to lots of audio books. "I try to listen to something educational like sales training tapes or uplifting things. I had a book by the Dalai Lama on how to have happiness at work."

Many content commuters say you don't even have to be all Zen about the experience, just practical. Daniel Faigin, a highway historian and curator of www.cahighways.org, is a self-described "road geek" and a mega-commuter who has been running his company's vanpool for decades on some of the worst freeways in Southern California.

"I've learned how to cope when traffic gets really bad," he says. "Some lessons, which I believe apply equally well whether you are commuting in greater Los Angeles or in the San Francisco Bay Area, are things like commuting with a friend, or a bunch of friends. Driving solo sucks. With friends you can talk -- or not -- and you can switch off drivers."

He also suggests investing in some good podcasts, and checking traffic information before you head out the door to plan for alternate routes.

"When all else fails, if the commute is really bad on the way home, just take a deep breath, and go out and have a nice dinner until the traffic calms down," he says. "The stress isn't worth it."

Follow Angela Hill on Twitter.com/giveemhill.

  • Aromatherapy works in the car, not just the spa. Today.com reports a study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine that recommends the relaxing, destressing effects of a lavender scent. And peppermint can help keep you more alert and responsive on long drives.

  • Carpooling not only helps reduce pollution and traffic, but can relieve stress for driver and passengers, too.

  • Classical music and audio books can help to destress and keep you entertained during a drive or long ride on public transit.

    Source: Today.com