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Life on the road

Cheap housing, lack of jobs lead many High Desert residents to commute

High Desert residents speak about their commute:

“I’d rather deal with the commute for the opportunities. It’s easier to commute than join a company that can’t offer you as much.”

— Wesley Quindanar

“If you don’t have an alternative, just do what you have to do and complain about it later.”

— Erik Negrete

“I’ve gotten dirty looks, cut off, smiles, guns pointed at me and comments that I must be nuts to ride amongst all that mess.”

— Joe McCoy, motorcycle commuter

“I am a single father and spend more than a third of my income on gas alone.”

— Eddie Heke

“I hate commuting. But, I also hate being told by the few High Desert employers that ‘It’s cheaper up here, so we will pay 40 percent less for the same job.’ I’ve endured snow, fog, Santa Ana winds, countless truck accidents, hours long waits, done all the ‘short cuts’ (including all the ‘back ways’). I hope to retire in two years, move out of this area and NEVER see the I-15 again.”

— Blake Lemere

“I don’t wish commuting on anyone. It put me into an extreme funk. I wasn’t happy, all I did was work and drive.”

— Jennie Johnson

“After 15 years, and 400,000-plus miles, of commuting to Corona from Apple Valley, I think I have seen just about everything. Just a few of the odd things I have seen during my commute have been people changing clothes, reading the newspaper which was draped across the steering wheel, putting on make-up, eating a pizza, pillow cases covering the entire driver’s window because you can’t have that 7 a.m. sun beating on you and I even saw a guy with a string going out his window to operate the wipers.”

— Mike Hester

Beginning his commute to Anaheim at 3:30 a.m., High Desert resident Eddie Heze spends 16 hours away from home. Despite the long hours, Heze's income as a full-time employee is equivalent to working a part-time job in the Victor Valley once gas money is taken into account.

Heze’s story is repeated across the High Desert as residents are faced with a conundrum: The High Desert has affordable housing but few jobs, while the Los Angeles basin has jobs and more expensive housing.

Heze’s reasons for commuting are two-fold. First, the retirement benefits at his full-time job make it more attractive than any part-time job. Additionally, as a single father, he said any housing he could afford outside of the High Desert would significantly lower his family’s quality of life.

According to a 2010 San Bernardino Associated Governments report, close to 50 percent of employed Victor Valley residents commute outside of the High Desert. Sixty percent of these commuters stay within San Bernardino County, while the rest travel even farther into the LA basin.

Because residential development proceeded economic development in the High Desert in recent years, local jobs can be hard to find, according to the SANBAG report. Unemployment in High Desert cities ranges from 15 percent in Apple Valley to 20.9 percent in Adelanto, according to October reports.

Hesperia resident Michelle Franquez and her husband moved to the High Desert 10 years ago looking for cheap housing and hoping to spend more time as a family.

“Little did we know the jobs up there do not pay what jobs down the hill do,” Franquez explained. “I wish the job market up there was in need of a honest mechanic with an electrical background and a bookkeeper.”

Instead, Franquez and her husband commute to Ontario, leaving home at 5:40 a.m. and returning around 6 p.m., leaving little family time.

In just four years of commuting from the High Desert to Monrovia and LaVerne, Jason Ferris explained that he and his wife ran two vehicles into the ground. Because they were wearing out cars faster than they could pay them off, the Ferris’ decided to commute together last year, and have already put 40,000 miles on their new Hyundai Elantra.

Not only is the commute costly but challenges of navigating the road — especially Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass — causes frustration and fear for many commuters. Traffic on the Pass forces many to leave for work very early in the morning, and Las Vegas traffic disturbs commuters who work weekends and odd hours.

Reckless driving also creates fear for many and causes accidents. Victorville resident Franchesco Nicholas, who commutes to Ontario, thinks about the dangers facing him every time he gets in his car.

“There’s been a lot of deaths,” he explains. “It’s out of your hands. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Despite the challenges, some commuters are able to look on the bright side.

“You make the best of it,” says Joe McCoy, 60, who commutes to Rancho Cucamonga by motorcycle. “I like the openness and the time to reflect, whether it’s hot or cold.”

While on his bike, McCoy says he enjoys observing people in their cars.

“I see cell phone talkers, texting, eating, make-up applications, paper readers and drunks,” he says. “Mostly though, I see people. People just trying to get from here to there safely.”

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