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Coed Carpool

by Elliot Steingart

April 11, 2012 | 12:20 pm

My new co-worker is a perky 26 year old gal who lives in Los Feliz. She is nice looking and normal. We walked to Starbucks where I popped the question.

“Want to carpool?”

“Sure!” she said.

It’s a big commitment to carpool to work with a total stranger. You really have no idea what to expect. You just assume that because you are both adults you are mature. You also assume because you have a license you know how to drive a car.

What if that wasn’t the case? What if she starts driving and I start screaming, “Get in the left lane!!!” Go, bitch! We can’t be late!!”

And that’s just on the way to work. What if on the way home I make more demands? “Get off here. I have errands to run.”

I make her take me to Albertsons, then H & R Block. I get back in the car and say, “We gotta stop by Leroy’s house.”

She’s waiting in the car while Leroy and I go on all night bender. She is still in the car waiting for me until the following morning.

The next day it’s my turn to drive. I pick her up, and then drive us off a cliff. All you see is the car burst into flames. She agreed to carpool with me knowing this is the stuff that I think about.

I respect her for taking a chance. This is my first real adult carpool, the first time I initiated driving with someone to work everyday. Growing up you don’t have a choice with whom you carpool. It’s kind of the same idea as being friends with your neigbhors. You have no say. You live close so automatically are forced into friendship.

Your new friend is the kid digging for earth worms in the front yard. His name is Yuval. He’s not good at sports. He’s good at nature. You just want to play hide and go seek. “You hide. I’m going to seek out some new neighbors.”

Or in high school when you carpool with Maya, the girl who asks too many questions about your weekend. After she parks, you tie your shoes and rather than wait, she accelerates straight to homeroom!

Because I sought out the carpool, I’m responsible for its future. For the sake of rising gas prices I must maintain the carpool at all costs. I have made concessions. I let her choose the CD this morning. She picked Best of Talking Heads. A great selection. We talked about how she is adjusting to the job. She told me about her volunteer work. I told her how about the $4.99 deal at Albertsons.

She said, “You already told me about that.”

“Your choice of two chicken breasts or wings, and two sides?”

“Yea,” She said. “I’ve heard this from you.”

She is an adequate driver. Not the best. I have a better command of the wheel, and how far behind you should be from the car in front of you. You can’t call out her driving on the first day of the carpool. It comes gradually. The second week once you too have a few inside jokes, you find yourself becoming more vocal.

“You may not want to tail this guy,” I said.

“I swear I’m not a bad driver. You don’t think I am. Do you?”

“No, you are good.” I lied.

I understand that there is added pressure driving someone you want to impress. Driving becomes a performance. I drive with more gravitas. I speed and mouth the words to “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.

She takes alternate routes like the 5 instead of the 2. We joined the slow moving traffic at which point I said, “It’s okay. This is a teachable moment.”

I’m carpooling with the girl next door. Granted she’s the girl next door who probably didn’t pass her driver’s test on the first try, but neither did I.

What’s important is that we’ve come a long way since our first week in the carpool. That first week felt like each leg of the trip was a date. “What’s your favorite restaurant in Los Feliz?”

“Do you like Mad Men?”

It’s inappropriate to mix business with pleasure. Besides we are friends, and she will read this blog because I asked her permission to write about the carpool. If you are reading this, I have forgiven you for the time you almost rammed us into a Mazda and then said, “Wups!

Lately, we walk out of the office at the same time as Kimi and Mishi. They started carpooling from the Southbay over a year ago. They listen to KPCC’s Steve Inskeep and play on their phones. We are still in the talking to each other and making jokes phase. We both know our carpool is the best. It’s a matter of time before we challenge them to an after work drag race, and leave em in the dust and then give them the finger.

I’m glad our carpool is a source of pleasure and that I haven’t driven us off a cliff.

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