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L.A. DIARY | So Socal

Why I Drive Alone

August 18, 1996|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 all.

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