I have changed jobs. But I am not certain that I can make the ultimate adjustment in my life. Can I change car pools?
Lured into my car pool by the promise of cost-effective transportation, I soon learned that a car pool is more than the sum of its moving parts. It is a self-contained culture, a rolling world with rites and customs worthy of study by a latter-day Margaret Mead.
Coming of age in a car pool means learning to observe The Ritual of the Route. Rule One is that no car pool worthy of its wheels commutes between home and work via the direct route. The daily drive must be a quest for the perfect route, the way a surfer seeks the perfect wave.
Our trip between Bethesda and Judiciary Square serves as a microcosm of car pool culture. We never even consider Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue or the other major arteries. Traffic signals are the nemesis of all car poolers.
Instead, we seek the precise combination of twists and turns on local streets which will get us to our goal without crossing bridges, the Beltway or "Go."
The driver of the day selects the route and must be prepared to defend the choice regardless of accidents, school buses, diplomatic drivers, motorcades, mass demonstrations on Massachusetts Avenue or rush-hour road construction. Some drivers repeat incantations like, "It's worse on Wisconsin Avenue," to ward off the complaints of their fellow travelers.
The riders, however, are not stymied by such obvious efforts to keep them from complaining. Each delay must be duly noted with a not-so-subtle suggestion that any route would be better than the one selected.
The responsible rider is certain to state, "I'll bet it's clear on Canal Road," when you are stuck behind a garbage truck on MacArthur Boulevard. Or, "I would have taken MacArthur," when you are crawling along the canal. The mutual desire to prove each other wrong is one of the things that cements the car pool culture.
Despite these conflicts, car pool riders will always band together against common enemies--especially traffic engineers who change access to local streets as fast as we can find new shortcuts. We refuse to be detoured from our appointed rounds.
Let the residents of Reno Road block one lane of traffic with steel stanchions and the other with their own cars. We shall not be removed. Let our foes on 46th Street NW place mini-Maginot lines every 50 feet. We will drive over them every day, although they jar our teeth and jam our transmissions.
Just as we seek the perfect ride, we also seek the perfect schedule. The simple approach would be to divide the five driving days by the number of drivers. But, in fact, our schedule has as many twists and turns as the routes we take.
Brenda is supposed to drive Monday, but on Monday her chemistry class is starting early, so she will drive separately. Marsha will drive Monday. She can't drive on Tuesday because she finally got an appointment at the transmission place which was written up in Washington Checkbook three months ago. So I'll drive Tuesday. Besides, I owe Marsha one trip. The trip I owe her is from the Saturday kids' hockey team car pool, but she is willing to take a trade.
Between the search for the perfect ride, the complaints, the driving lessons and the constant changes in the schedule, the car pool has become the most challenging part of my workday.
I'm going to miss the car pool more than the job I left. Maybe sometimes they'll let me come along for the ride.