WASHINGTON - When most people are sound asleep, Linda Baer is already revving up her car's engine in the driveway of her Hagerstown, Md., home.
"Every minute counts," says Baer, who leaves her house at around 2:30 a.m. "Every minute I'm delayed, I'm delayed even longer on the other side."
The commute to Baer's D.C. job with the Department of Justice is a marathon. It takes her through multiple modes of transportation and spans about 3 1/2 hours.
"We have a 9-year-old son," says Baer about her choice to live relatively far away from work. "It's all about the schools and all about him."
Hagerstown, which is in Western Maryland, also is more affordable for her family, Baer says.
Her daily trek to D.C. comprises a drive to a Park and Ride, a trip on a commuter bus, a ride on the Metro and a walk.
"I have a job that is very flexible with my hours.If it wasn't flexible, I don't know if I could do it," she says.
Baer's commute is reliant on variables that are entirely out of her control. If her bus arrives at the Shady Grove Metro station even a couple of minutes late, her entire morning is thrown off-kilter.
"We usually have to run," says Baer, who sprints to the train before traveling to Metro Center. "You just want to be able to run off the bus and get that train."
Prime seating on the commuter bus is one reason Baer arrives at her Park and Ride at around 2:45 a.m. for the 4:15 a.m. bus.
She snags a place at the front of the line by leaving a placeholder on the sidewalk.
"I have a water bottle, she says. "It has my initials on it, just in case someone challenges me."
As the minutes pass, more random objects appear. Early risers mark their spots and head back to their vehicles for a short bit of rest.
"I don't know how it started or when it started, but we're a big family," Baer says. "Everybody respects each other."
Baer's sleep is staggered and limited. The mother, who is heavily involved in multiple community groups, is usually in bed by about 9 p.m. for five hours of sleep.
She gets short spurts of shut-eye in her car, on her bus and on the Metro, but Baer must be careful to wake up on time in her constant battle against the clock.
"I have a very coordinated, time-sensitive life," Baer says. "Everything has to work perfectly."
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