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casual cray-cray carpool [Sep. 27th, 2006|12:16 pm]
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(This entry is about a commute alternative to BART I've decided to take. I know, I know, where's my loyalty? But don't worry, sometimes I'm still hella late out the door and have to go to BART anyway.)

As jumping in the cars of complete strangers in the middle of the night after getting them to stop while slowly lifting my t-shirt up on a street corner is a regular compulsion of mine, I thought I'd bring the pathology to the daylight and save m'self $3.10 a day by participating in Casual Carpool. Haay, I can save up for that lasik operation I so desperately need! That, and help save toll and BART money of two other people, get us all to our respective hell-cubicles quicker, and somehow consolidate and concentrate gasoline usage, and get to know my neighbors, all in one friendly hippie package.

I did it for the first time last week. Now, I'm one of those frantic, inconsistent-ass workers who sometimes sits from 7am – 11pm at my dang cubicle pumping out stupid spreadsheets, yet most times I arrive hella late and think of excuses like, "Emergency appendectomy!" a few blocks from the front door every day.

On the day that would mark my first foray into the land of eco-transport-hookerdom, I have a big-ass backpack full of ice skates, Tupperware with stir fry, and some giant Nureyev biography from the lib-ary. I'd basically take up a whole back seat, not unlike porkers on Southwest who have to buy two tickets for two seats – one for each pig fighting for a milkdud.

So I press my back against the passenger window of the luxury car of some older gent and adjust my waist band (well okay, I wave and say, "Carpool?!") and hop in. Leather seats, 102.1 playing some retarded Haydn symphony, and I'm all, "Hi, I'm Ben!"

He looks hella puzzled and replies, with a shake of the hand, "Hi, I'm Ken." (Imagine one of those pixilated silhouettes with a robot voice on Hard Copy for the sake of protecting his identity.) I guess since I introduced myself because I wanted to get to know my neighbor, Ken thought he could be friendly, so he starts asking me about my work in college publishing, and we get into his youngest daughter's start of her undergrad career.

I am explaining about how I now understand why college textbooks cost so damn much (because publishers give away hella media and print stuff that accompanies the book for free, and barely turn a profit), when in jumps this gust of wind. No hello – just a damn booch in a black powersuit saying, "Okay, let's go."

"Hi, I'm Ben," I offer. Uh oh. Shouldn't have.

Her: "Oh, that is so surprising since usually people don't bother to introduce themselves in this thing. I am Anya, yes that is a Russian name, yes this neighborhood is full of Russians."

Ken: "Hi, I'm Ken. Ben and I were just discussing what we do for work – what do you do?"

Anya: "Oh, I work for Charles Schwab. Yes, and I always go around walking in this neighborhood and I am always so jealous of the other women who walk around drinking coffee while their kids are at day care and I am wondering, ‘What do you do for work?' I have a 5-year-old in school and so when I drop him off I see all these other women who don't have jobs and I am thinking, ‘What kind of neighborhood do I live in?'"

Ken: "Oh, what school?"

Anya: "Kaiser Elementary."

Ken: "Oh, that's where my youngest went." (He sends a nod to the backseat to confirm my existence in a reference to our past conversation.)

Anya: "Ah yes, and I don't know why the people in my neighborhood won't use the public school simply because they have enough money to send their children to private school. And because I am not spending my money on private school I bring fresh fruit to my son's class every day and no other parents there and I am thinking, ‘If five kids from my neighborhood would be in this class, this would be an excellent class.'"

Ooh uh uh, she is not about to insinuate that poor people are poor students and that rich people automatically bring up the quality of an educational system, is she? I'm just an assumptive asshole, right?

Ken: "Well, poor families do not mean . . ."

Anya: "Yes but I am thinking that if only FIVE kids from MY neighborhood would be in this class, it would be (kisses hand) an EXCELLENT class. I don't know what is wrong with the people in my neighborhood. I mean, these poor people who are in the class don't care."

All right. Now I'm what some might call an atrocity tourist. I love to pet the train wrecks. It sickens me to my stomach how ignorant people are of their own bigotry, but it's still in a way amusing to listen to all this shit spewing from asshats' cakeholes, and maybe I'd learn something about the ‘other side' along the way. So I'm just staring out the window muffling my giggles.

Silence.

Ken: "So . . . you're from Russia?"

Anya: "No I am not Russian. I am Jewish."

(Uhh . . .)

Ken: "Oh, are you going to Rosh Hashanah service?"

Anya: "No, I am not Jewish at all. I will probably eat a challah. I don't believe in that crap."

Ken: "Oh, so you . . . are culturally Jewish?"

Anya: "Oh no, I know nothing about it."

Ken: "Oh . . ."

Uh oh.

Anya: "But I feel that I must think about it. You know that the Nazis killed my people, right?"

. . .

"You know that every day my grandmother lights a candle because her youngest son was killed fighting against the Nazis and he gave false papers to fight in the army saying he was eighteen but he was really sixteen and I see her tears every day so really I AM FORCED TO THINK ABOUT THIS, AND THE HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE THINGS THAT HAPPENED AND IT IS TRULY A CRUEL, INHUMANE THING THAT HAPPENED AND I FEEL IT IS AN OBLIGATION FOR US TO REALIZE WHAT HAS HAPPENED AND SO I MUST OBSERVE IT."

Ken: "Okay, so of course you feel this is important culturally . . ."

Anya: "Oh no, I am not Jewish. I know nothing about it."

Ken has to answer a call. Ain't none of my business.

Ken: "Hello? Oh yes, dad's doing better, looks like he doesn't need me to stay the night tonight." Aww, his aging dad is getting up there, as Ken is probably in his late sixties as it is. I can tell by the single really, really long hair growing from his forearm. Then his reception goes bad.

Anya: "Ah, ah hah!" Oh no, you are NOT about to acknowledge that you are listening in to his call. "Ah, what's wrong, bad reception? So, your dad is sick? How old is he? Where do you live?"

Ken has to change lanes to make it over to the carpool lane. I know that everyone hates receiving driving advice in the middle of driving, if ever, no matter how needed it is. I keep my damn trap shut. I also read the damn etiquette guide on the Casual Carpool website saying that you should not initiate conversation with the driver EVER. Let them do the talking.

Anya: "GO, NOW, GO!" Except not so My So-Called Life. She ain't no Rayanne. I feel like punching her in her damn face.

Ken's phone rings again.

Anya: "Oh, hah hah! Maybe you press this button this time! Hope your dad is okay! How old are you?"

So Ken inconceivably explains how his dad's about to die and so is his mom so he's been spending some nights in the East Bay. I empathize and say the same thing is happening to my mom and her mom.

Anya: "GUESS WHAT I DO AT CHARLES SCHWAB. CUSTOMER SATISFACTION SURVEYS!"

(Mm, right now I'm thinking about pecan pie.)

Anya: "BECAUSE YOU KNOW I LIKE TO INTERACT WITH PEOPLE I mean you know I like to talk as you hear me here in the car, talking, and see first I get the surveys online from the website then they get turned over to the database but then I know the people in IT and they feel I am the only one they can speak to because I know all about IT even though I would never want to be stuck behind a computer like that because really I like to interact with people. But then my friend is in IT and I try to take her out but they can't interact with people at all so then the surveys go back into the database and it is up to me to interpret it all, and you know my husband works for the city of Oakland and he is IT too and I completely understand the lingo so he can talk to me too."

We're getting off the bridge and approaching Market Street. Anya is going to get off a block before her office building, I'll ride up to the top of Telegraph Hill and walk down the steps at the base of Coit Tower and descend upon my office like a big vulture, cuz that's where Ken's destination is too.

Anya: "I can't walk the one block."

. . .

Anya: "HA HA HA! I mean look at these shoes!"

Ken is making a turn. I'm thinking about ass.

Anya: "NO LOOK! See, my boss is in Chicago and she doesn't care what I wear anyway so I am wearing Birkenstocks in the office yesterday and my co-worker comes up to me and says, ‘That's it, we're going shoe shopping!' Oh, and here I am."

Time to kick her the hell out of the car on her icy ass. She's gone and I could see where my heavy exhale makes a cloud on the backseat window.

I'm fully expecting Ken to let it all out. Nice old man, Ken is. He'd never tell her to her face that she's a loudmouthed insensitive hypocritical intolerant hobag. I guess it's the whole Holocaust thing that got to me. It's like she was telling me I'm automatically an ignorant fool for not lighting a candle and crying every day over a son I don't have every day because she's the genuine Jew yet of course she can get away with not learning anything about her culture at all, but I'm still in the wrong.

Ken: "Anya sure is a beautiful young lady, isn't she?"

I'm searching for the grin. I'm searching for the wink. Or the, "'Cept she got enough hair down there to grow a jheri curl, but I ain't one to talk, so you ain't hear nuthin' from me."

Ken: "Her husband sure is one lucky man."

Me: . . . *flabbergasted* . . . "Uh . . . yeah, vivacious."

Ken: "Mmmmmmmm."

***

So of course I'm now hooked on this carpool thing. Since that first cray-cray experience, the rest have been boring at best. But I notice that in my neighborhood there seem to be a lot of older men in luxury cars giving rides across the bridge. Maybe they're all benevolent and environmentally conscious. Maybe they're all after Anya. I hope none of them are Dennis Parnell, and that I'm not a "young African American child with a clean bottom".

Last week I jumped into the car of a damn Canadian. It was a black hatchback -- not the luxury I'm used to. Then in jumped some other polite middle-aged man. The driver just got married; the other guy just begat a daughter (or his wife did, depending on your definition of "beget"). We talked about the Vancouver Olympics and citizen ire with the taxes.

Just yesterday I jumped into a white hatchback. Same Canadian. I didn't introduce myself last time, so I offered my hand and said, "I'm Ben."

"I'm David. Oh, and here comes David!"

From out of the Safeway parking lot came running a little guy with a wheely bag and a newboy cap, waving a stick with an orange flag at the end. "Wait for me!" He looked like perhaps the uppermost (so far) in a line of descendents (or ascendants, since I've met him last) to the Jay Withgott-Dr. Greg line (I'm supposed to use one of those rare en dashes there, but how do you represent an en dash in plain text?). Little squirrelly guy with glasses and London wear.

We went over again how David the driver is from Canada, and how he went to Big Sur and Hearst Castle for his wedding. David the dapper is from Texas. Then I piped in about Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan, Winchester Mystery House, and how I want to play hide n' seek at night in either. Somehow we got to the subject of knitting and embroidery, and after we shared secret hole-in-the-wall miracle fabric stories, li'l David (not bright-eyed David) says, "I've been working on this coat -- for six years now! It's going to be the grandest coat ever! I'm using charcoal cashmere, and I just have to learn how to make the lining!"

Whilst suggesting some on-the-cheap sewing advice circles at RPS and Lacis to li'l David, I could not help but remember how my brother described his neighbor in San Diego -- an old man who liked living in the college town near the youth, who was saving to buy a grand coat of many colors, and when he would acquire this coat he would throw a big party for all his neighbors and wear the grand coat, and be the beau of the ball.

I'm going to go cry now.
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