Long Day’s Journey

Bill Haney’s home is a farm outside the tiny town of Ortonville, Mich., where he likes to ride his tractor, grow vegetables and “fix things up.” Haney’s office is at Foote Cone & Belding in New York, where he works as evp of corporate communications. His weekly commute adds up to 500 miles. Think he hates it? Think again.

“If it were grueling and nonproductive, I wouldn’t do it, but I’m confident I can be as productive in this mode,” says Haney, a veteran of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and, later, The McManus Group. “The ability to get distance and perspective from the hustle and bustle is very valuable to me.”

The average commute time is 47 minutes in New York and 49 minutes in Los Angeles, according to a 2003 survey by the WageWorks Center for Commuter Studies. But some ad-industry execs happily double, triple or quadruple those times on planes, trains and automobiles to pursue lifestyles they can’t find near their agencies’ ZIP codes.

Haney heads to the airport at 10:45 every Monday morning after working a few hours from home, arriving at his desk in midtown by 4. He works into the evening almost every night, then retires to his apartment in the city. On Thursday or Friday, Haney heads back to the country and spends the weekend “making up to my wife for not being around.”

Scott Gilbert, co-CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, travels even farther each week: His home base is in Snowmass, Colo. He leaves his family behind on Sunday nights for an 8-10-hour commute that includes a flight from Aspen to Denver and another that goes on to Newark. He stays in his Manhattan loft on weeknights, returning to Colorado on Fridays. Gilbert has become such a frequent flier that a barista at an airport Starbucks once offered him an airport-employee discount.

Gilbert, who’s worked out of New York for 18 months, says his family loves living in Snowmass—and he can’t imagine replicating his 800-square-foot woodworking studio in New York. The key to making it work, he explains, is not to get too aggravated by travel snafus. “It’s almost like I take my personality and blood pressure and try to dial them down,” he says.

The New York commute is reversed for Marianne Collins, who loves big-city life. When she landed a management supervisor job on the UPS account at The Martin Agency last September, Collins accepted with the understanding that she would work in Richmond, Va., three or four days a week. “The trick is to establish a routine,” she says of her commute. “So much of the stress of travel is the unknown—going to new places and not understanding how the system works.”

For Lewis Brooks, that stress involves driving from Richboro, Penn., to a train that takes him into New York to a subway that delivers him to DDB, where he works as director of corporate interoffice communications. The two-hour commute, which he’s endured since 1989, is tiring enough that he’s twice overslept and ended up in the train yards. But, he says, he has a far nicer home than he could buy close to Manhattan, and “we chose to bring up our kids where they could ride bikes in the streets.”

Jack Waldrip spends a total of three hours each day in his car, which takes a toll, says the senior editor at post house Charlieuniformtango in Dallas. “I don’t have a life, really, other than driving and working,” says Waldrip. But when he arrives home at his 105-acre piece of land outside Ardmore, Okla., “the sky’s black and full of stars, and I can hear ducks,” he says. “It’s worth the drive.” Plus, the ranch has plenty of space for his 10 horses, 10 ducks, nine dogs, three geese, three cats, two rabbits and pet cow.

Long-distance living isn’t for everyone, however. From 1999-2000, Jay Russell flew almost weekly from Dallas to his job as a creative at Young & Rubicam in New York. He found it hard to connect with his department when he wasn’t there full-time, and his life “felt like a blur,” says Russell, now a group creative director at TM Advertising in Irving, Texas. “I didn’t feel like I was rooted anywhere.”

Gilbert himself says his lifestyle is “not natural.” Living apart from his wife “is kind of goofy,” he admits. “It seems like I’m trying to live two lives at one time.”