Why I Drive Alone
By Mary McNamara
The sky was cloudless but for the flyaway hopscotch streaks of jet
trails, and we three, myself and two friends, were going to Santa Monica for
dinner. Eastsiders all, we had our passports and a Westside phrase book ("Is
your pesto cream cheese nonfat?"; "I'm looking for the lavender/tangerine
aromatic mist"; "It's the black Range Rover with the PETA decal"), but as we
stood in our downtown parking structure, we hit a snag. Well, not really a
snag, more like a full-blown culturally inflicted personality disorder.
It started with the words "I'll drive." Uttered innocently enough by
the member of our threesome most recently arrived in Los Angeles (I'll call
her NY), these words sent prickles of unease up the back of my neck.
"I think we should take separate cars," I said, attempting an offhand
manner. "Me too," echoed my other friend, whom I will call LA.
"That's ridiculous," said NY in a very NY manner. "Why on earth would
we take three separate cars all the way over there?"
I looked at LA and she looked at me and our minds whirled in sync like
wheels in a Habitrail.
"Well," I said, "it's silly for you to have to drive us all the way
back here." "And," LA said, "we wouldn't have to worry about leaving our cars
here." NY looked at us. "You can't be serious."
Of course we were serious. We were serious codependents desperately
defending our right to mental illness. Call it Car Separation Anxiety. It is a
regional malady that enters the victim's bloodstream during the first $50 cab
ride from the airport to West Hollywood and eventually blooms into
environmental denial ("It's not smog, it's the marine layer") and gridlock
dementia ("The car pool lane is for suckers"). It is about power and control,
about the superiority of personal driving skills and routes and the physical
need to sing "Dancing Queen" at least once on any trip more than three miles
long. We also wanted to take our own cars because they were our cars, because
we felt good in our cars, we felt safe in our cars. We wanted to take our own
cars because all our stuff, our sweatshirts, our tennis rackets, our coffee
mugs, our spare copies of "The House at Pooh Corner," any of which we might
need at any time, was in our cars. If we took our own cars, we could leave
whenever we wanted, or maybe not even go at all if we changed our minds on the
way over. If something bad happened, if we were walking around and started to
hate each other, or if we suddenly got terrible cramps, or if we saw our old
boyfriends, we could get in our cars and drive away. If we all went in NY's
car, she could decide she wanted to take all the wrong surface streets or stop
at some guy's house in Manhattan Beach "just for one minute," or make us
listen to "Showboat" and we would be trapped. Sure, she was our friend, but
how well did we know her after all? "I cannot believe this," said NY.
LA and I stood there silently attempting to defend the indefensible.
Busted. This was ridiculous. We uncurled our fingers one by one from the
security blanket of our car keys. We followed NY to her car, got in and rode
to the Westside. And after a little humming and a few deep-breathing
exercises, why, we could actually open our eyes, and it wasn't that bad at
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