I am incredibly lucky to have access to a car and a lack of morals regarding pollution. Because to me, there are few things more cathartic than wasting gas, listening to music and greeting the open road with turning wheels.
I was wasting gas and time along the moving parking lots natives call freeways last week when I passed by the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) “carpool” lane, a special passage where drivers get rewarded with less traffic for riding with other people. I was alone, singing to dad music, stuck in some terrible, terrible traffic and very low on fuel. It was when my gas light came on that I passed by the ol’ carpool lane and, for a second, looked longingly at the line of cars moving seven times faster than I was. In my head, the magic carpool lane is like a carnival tunnel of love, chock-full of cute couples who take Instagram photos of themselves in pillow forts, eat uncooked fish and wear each other’s clothes. Granted, that’s a projection of my ideal relationship, but, nonetheless, it appeared to me that taking the carpool lane meant getting ahead by not being alone.
Due to my liberal arts education, my ego or my love of talking to myself, I began to think of the carpool lane––rather, the idea of the carpool lane––as a metaphor. We as humans tend to group together to go places faster. Call it teamwork, activism, love or whatever else, there are a number of reasons we offer, “You need a ride?” as we buckle ourselves up. A lot of the time, we do it because having people with us makes the ride shorter.
We are often stronger, more efficient, even happier in numbers, and there are days when three hours of traffic isn’t appealing. As a result, we let all kinds of passengers bum rides off us—lovers, friends, family. We have people who have been in our back seats since we sat in car seats and people who we know will be our shotguns forever.
I was thinking about the implications of the carpool lane as I thought about how long I had been static in my Mazda. I contemplated if it would have been worth asking a friend to go on this drive with me.
If I had phoned a friend, I wouldn’t be stuck in such bad traffic, but I also wouldn’t be able to sing-cry to show tunes and eat an entire box of donuts. When you’re on a team, you can’t act solely for yourself. When there’s someone else in the car, you have to share the donuts and reel in the Broadway.
It occurred to me then that it isn’t always worth it to have someone sitting shotgun just to be able to use the carpool lane. You may miss out on traffic but you also miss out on having the ride you really wanted.
Being with people just to not be alone is not a good enough reason to be with people. May it be a lover, a band, a team, a party, I don’t think anything real or authentic can come from complacency in relationships or fear of being alone.
I too often do social things just to do them, not because I really want to do them. I go out when I’m tired, I sit with a pack in the quad when all I want is some me time and I let the creepy kid at the table next to me buy me a coffee when I have a gift card. And I’m done. I don’t want to hang out just because I have nothing better to do, I don’t want to go on a date just because I’m afraid no one else will ever want to, and I don’t want to live in terms of “might as well.” A passenger may make my road feel shorter, but there are great things waiting on the longer route.
I think we should all seek the right people to surround ourselves with rather than empty warm bodies that can tell us what we want to hear, give us physical gratification or boost our egos.
Knowing when to drop your passengers at the next bus stop or even pass by hitchhikers without slowing down is not always easy. There are people who have been bumming rides off me since middle school, and sometimes I don’t realize how much gas I’ve used on them. But every three months, when we check our oil, we need to start checking our backseat. It’s not worth getting anywhere faster if we’re carsick the whole way.