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Car-Pool Etiquette : The incentives are great: making friends, beating traffic, saving on expenses. But flexibility is a must. Sacrifices are required, agree Orange County commuters, and finding the right partner can seem like a courtship.

March 22, 1994|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not long ago, Dianna Wong contracted a horrendous case of the flu. It didn't take her long to figure out who she got it from--Carolyn Stiitz, her car-pool partner. "She pointed out that she was sick the week before, and I realized that, well, that's one of the hazards of being part of a car-pool."

Despite sharing illnesses and differences over radio stations, temperature controls and when to leave work, Wong and Stiitz make a good car-pool couple. They alternate driving each week and, with the help of the car-pool lane on the San Diego Freeway, are able to go from their homes in Westminster to the offices of Allergan Inc. in Irvine in 20 minutes--25 minutes less than if they drove solo.

"We've become very good friends since we started car-pooling three years ago," says Stiitz, who works in Allergan's bids and contracts department. "That's helped us. We're not shy with each other. If we're in her car and I don't like the music, I just reach over and change it myself."

Says Wong, a sample coordinator: "Carolyn's a little more rock 'n' roll, but that's usually OK with me. We spend our time talking anyway."

Neither Wong nor Stiitz thinks about going back to driving alone.

"Two people make the ideal car-pool," says Sally Rogers, an executive secretary from Mission Viejo who has been a part of 38 car-pools during the past 21 years. "It's easier to deal with just one other person. When you're dealing with three different personalities and schedules, it can be frustrating."

Having started car-pooling at a time when "ride-sharing" meant "hitchhiking," Rogers says she has been a part of some excellent car-pools and some not so good ones. Because of a change in her work schedule, she recently started driving solo to her office in the South Coast Metro area and is enjoying the break from commuting with others.

"The worst kind of person to drive with is the type-A personality," she says. "Everyone's got to have some flexibility. One person will often want to dominate the group and decide when to leave and all that. The group has to realize that everyone's in the same boat. You're all doing this to beat traffic, save on gasoline expenses, and there are sacrifices you make as part of a car-pool."

Finding the right car-pool can seem like a courtship.

"It took about six months before I started feeling comfortable and accepted," says Bob Muir, a senior public affairs representative with the Metropolitan Water District, who goes from his home in Fullerton to a pickup site in La Habra each morning for the daily van-pool ride to Los Angeles. 'Some of these people had been driving to work together for more than 10 years."

"I don't think everyone needs to be friends in a car-pool," Rogers says. "You just have to be considerate of others."

Probably the biggest ride-sharing headache is getting everyone in the group to be punctual. "It can be real annoying when you have to wait for someone. It can be very cutthroat; people get left behind if they're not on time," says Muir, who tries to get to the pickup spot at least 15 minutes early.

"In a car-pool, you can be lynched if you're late," Rogers agrees. "If it looks like you're going to be held up a bit, let the others in your group know beforehand. They may not like waiting an extra 15 minutes, but they'll appreciate you for letting them know. And make sure you set your alarm each morning so that you're not in a rush."

Says Joe Cover, a principal analyst who rides in the same van-pool as Muir: "The key is to set a time limit. Everyone knows what time the van leaves, and if you're not there, it's gone."

Each car-pool seems to develop its etiquette over time.

"In some car-pools, everyone's real talkative in the morning and quiet in the afternoon. Others have been the opposite, and some have been entirely quiet or very talkative," Rogers says.

"In a morning van-pool, there seems to be an unspoken rule," Muir says. "No one turns the interior lights on. A lot of riders like to catch up on the sleep they're losing in the morning, and the people who want to read are out of luck. It's the same with the radio; don't turn on the rear speakers."

Music choices tend to be made by the driver. "It's my car; I like classical music, that's what's on the radio," says Celia Amezcua of Huntington Beach, a graphics designer for Pacific Mutual Insurance in Newport Beach, who drives to and from work each day with two friends. "It's soothing; it gets us ready for the day."

When musical tastes collide, there's always room for compromise. "I was in a car-pool with a woman once who loved rap music, which the other three didn't like," says Rogers. "The days she drove, we just brought Walkmans, that way everyone got to listen to whatever they wanted."

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Determining the temperature and other environmental factors generally isn't so easy.

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