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Going the extra mile: Long Island's 'extreme commuters'

Paul McElderry, a Wading River resident who works

Paul McElderry, a Wading River resident who works in Red Hook, in upstate Dutchess County, at Pindar Vineyards on the North Fork on Aug. 10. Photo Credit: Kimberly Yuen

If you think your commute is bad, try spending three hours driving (one way) or riding two trains and a bus to get to school every weekday.

The average Long Islander’s commute time is 35.4 minutes, and about one in five Long Islanders spent an hour or more commuting to work each way in 2017, according to U.S. Census data. The average commute time in the United States is 26.9 minutes.

But that’s nothing for some Long Islanders.

Here are four “extreme commuters” on Long Island who go the extra miles for a job and share why they do it — but more importantly, how they do it.

A CAR, TWO TRAINS AND A BUS

Name: Dylan O’Donoghue

Commute: Sayville to the Upper East Side

Mode of transportation: LIRR + Subway + Bus

Time spent commuting: 4.5 hours a day

How often: 5 days a week

While most teenagers might hit “snooze” a few times on their alarm clock before actually getting up, Sayville teenager Dylan O’Donoghue presses “stop.”

“Because the trains have such a strict schedule, there isn’t time to lounge around and sleep for another 10 minutes. It forces you to get up,” said the 17-year-old, who wakes up at 5 a.m. every day. “I know once I get on the train, I can go back to sleep.”

In a few days, he’ll be entering his senior year at Regis High School, an all-male private school located on the Upper East Side. He’s been doing the commute every weekday since he was 14.

O’Donoghue catches the 5:46 a.m. train into Penn Station. From there, he’ll take the C train to 86th Street and then the M86 crosstown bus to get to campus around 7:45 a.m. Classes go from 8:40 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.

Coming back home, he’s figured out the fastest way — he takes the 4 or 5 train, the Times Square Shuttle, and then the 1, 2 or 3 train back to Penn Station, where he catches the LIRR to Sayville. He’s usually back home around 7 p.m.

The commute costs him — or his parents, rather — about $3,500 a year, he said.

O’Donoghue said going to school in Manhattan was his choice. He also considered Chaminade High School and Sayville High School, but was drawn to Regis because his older brother and cousin also graduated from there, and it’s tuition free.

“I saw how beneficial it was for them,” he said. “They definitely matured a lot. They became very independent. You could see they felt very accomplished.”

He wanted to go through the same transformation.

“Sayville is a pretty small community. I was looking for something different. I wanted to meet some new kids. I wanted to view the world differently and gain different perspectives,” he said. “I was really interested in the change.”

O’Donoghue's father, Tom, drops him off at the train station every morning.

“We sensed in middle school he was looking for a new challenge,” Tom O’Donoghue said. “He’s really risen to the challenge.”

Dylan O’Donoghue was on the basketball and flag football teams. He also participated in a community service organization, the sports newspaper club, ultimate Frisbee, aquatic science and jazz band.

“I’ve been able to participate in different clubs that I wouldn’t be able to participate in if I didn’t go to Regis,” he said.

He said the commute has taught him to be more independent and forces him to be more responsible. He uses the time on his ride home to get about “a third to a half” of his homework done.

SAVING MONEY BUT MISSING THE FAMILY

Name: Paul McElderry

Commute: Wading River to Red Hook (Dutchess County)

Mode of transportation: Car

Time spent commuting: 3-4 hours each way

How often: Sundays and Thursdays

Paul McElderry lives on Long Island but works in upstate New York. 

“I hate being away from my family most of the week,” said McElderry, who runs his own acupuncture practice. “If I had a choice, I would be living back on Long Island tomorrow.”

But with bills and a mortgage to pay every month, he said it’s not that easy to relocate his business.

“I have an eight-year practice that I built up a patient base for,” said McElderry, 54. “I don’t want to go [back to Long Island] and start from scratch and stress out every month.”

During the week, he sleeps on an air mattress in his office. “As much as I don’t like it, I can’t afford to get a small apartment,” he said.

“The ends justify the means,” said McElderry, who was born in the Bronx but grew up in Stony Brook. “I just gotta work on any extra money I get in.”

He has been doing the commute since October, when he, his wife Katie and 20-year-old stepdaughter Julia found their dream home in Wading River. Before that, they were renting a two-bedroom apartment for eight years in Rhinebeck.

“We were set on the East End. It’s getting a bit overpopulated toward the west,” he said. He also wanted to be closer to his mother, who lives in Baiting Hollow.

He and Katie, an East Setauket native, both graduated in 1983 from Ward Melville High School. They lost contact after school but reconnected via Facebook in 2009 and have been married for five years. Their goal was to retire on Long Island.

“On the positive side, I’m able to give my wife a home that she loves and to be back on Long Island. On the negative end, I miss my family,” he said of his commute.

“I don’t know how much we can take,” Katie said of the distance. “It’s what we have to do to come back home.” She packs meals for him for the week before he leaves on Sunday.

During the long drives in his 2003 Toyota Corolla, Paul listens to music sometimes, but  “between my week with the patients and the things I need to get done at home, I spend that time mostly thinking.” He also has a list of home improvement projects to work on when he’s back on Long Island.

“Since graduating high school, I did everything I could to move out of state,” said Paul McElderry, who has lived in Florida, South Dakota, California and Arizona. “Now I just want to come home to Long Island. Long Island has always been and will always be my home.”

A PLACE TO CALL HOME

Name: Shanna Rawly

Commute: Coram to East New York to Manhattan

Mode of transportation: Car

Time spent commuting: 4.5 hours a day

How often: 5 days a week

Shanna Rawly always wanted a house with a yard and a place where her kids can run around and ride their bikes.

In February, her dream became a reality when she moved from a two-bedroom apartment in Valley Stream to a 5-bedroom home in Coram with her fiance, Ty Moorer.

But her job is in lower Manhattan.

Rawly, who works as a customer service manager for The New York City Department of Health, says “I look at the greater part of it. We have a house, the kids are happy, the area is nice, it’s quiet.”

Rawly, 41, starts her morning somewhere between 4:30 and 5 a.m.

Then she goes downstairs to her 13-year-old son Trè’s room, who “doesn’t wake up on his own.”

After getting herself, her son and her 2-year-old daughter Gracie ready, the three of them zip out of the door by 6 a.m. to drive to her mother’s house in Brooklyn.

“The [Long Island Expressway] is not that bad because they have the HOV, but when you get to the Northern State, that’s a whole different arena,” she said.

She doesn’t drink coffee or tea. She doesn’t listen to podcasts or audiobooks.

“I just listen to music,” Rawly said. She’s a big fan of the morning radio show on HOT 97.

She drops off Gracie and parks her car at her mother’s house in East New York. From there, she and Trè will hop on the 3 train at New Lots Avenue and transfer to the 4 or 5 train at the Utica Avenue station. Rawly gets off at the Brooklyn Bridge station, and Trè gets off at Bowling Green and walks a few blocks to school.

On the train, “I don’t do anything. I don’t listen to music. I’m sort of decompressing,” she said.

Trè, who will be in the eighth grade, goes to school a few blocks from her office. Rawly, who starts work at 8 a.m., has worked for the city of New York for more than 10 years.

“The benefits, retirement, the pension, the job security” makes the commute worth it to her, she said.

Rawly said a tank of gas costs her about $50 and she fills up twice a week. She pays $35 a week for a MetroCard, while her son’s school provides him with his card.

She’s technically done with work around 4:30 p.m. but will stick around for Trè to be done with track and soccer practices. At 6 p.m., they’ll go home together the same way they got in. On a “good” night, they’re back in their home by 7:30 p.m.

“Owning your own house is a huge accomplishment and a wonderful investment for you and your children,” Rawly said. “It’s so different in comparison to living in the city. We wouldn’t be able to do that in Brooklyn.”

‘IT KIND OF EVOLVED INTO THIS COMMUTE’

Name: Jill Lore

Commute: Mount Sinai to Madison, New Jersey

Mode of transportation: LIRR + NJT + Bus

Time spent commuting: 6 hours a day

How often: 3 days a week

Jill Lore’s commute is nearly as long as her work day.

She leaves her house at 5:30 a.m. to take the 6:08 a.m. train from Ronkonkoma into Penn Station. Then she’ll take the New Jersey Transit to Madison, New Jersey, and then a short ride on a company shuttle to her office around 9 a.m.

“It’s a long day, it’s exhausting. It’s expensive,” the Mount Sinai resident said. 

Lore, 48, works for a pharmaceutical company based in Madison as an IT administrative assistant.

The company’s headquarters were in Commack, but moved to Manhattan and then two years later relocated again to Madison.

“It wasn’t like I was looking for this role. It kind of evolved into this commute,” Lore said.

She does the trek on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays and Fridays, she works from home.

“The back-to-back days are the hardest,” Lore said. She’ll do the same thing in reverse when she’s done with work at 3:50 p.m. and is usually walking through the door of her house by 7:15 p.m.

Sure, finding a new job that’s closer to Long Island has crossed her mind, but she said she enjoys her company and its work culture.

“I’ve earned a lot of trust and flexibility,” said Lore, a 10-year employee of the company. “If the salaries on Long Island were compatible with New Jersey or New York City,” she would consider a job closer to home, “but they’re just not.”

“I do enjoy the role and the co-workers and that makes it worth it to me,” she said.

She said with company mergers and acquisitions, relocating her family to Madison had never been a thought.

“My family is [on Long Island] and that’s enough to keep me here,” said Lore, who grew up in Selden.

Driving to Madison was out of the question, too.

“It’s a hassle driving. You really need to leave the office early to get ahead of traffic,” she said.

Lore spends the time on the train reading books on her Kindle or responding to emails.

She said the commute has taught her time management skills. She constantly checks the weather and prepares all of her meals for the week on Sunday night.

“It definitely involves a lot of planning,” she said.

She’ll always have extra phone chargers, medicine, shoes, a rain hat and lots of snacks on her at all times.

“I’d rather work in Madison at a job that I’m happy with than a job closer to home that I’m miserable at,” she said.

If you or someone you know has a lengthy commute, we'd love to hear about how you do it, why you do it and what makes it worth it for you. Please email kimberly.yuen@newsday.com if you have a story to share.

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