Thursday, July 06, 2006

Meeting for Lunch

I took the train into work yesterday. The drive generally takes forty-five minutes; by train it took a little over an hour going in, and an hour and forty-five minutes coming back. Not sure I can face adding an hour to my commute time. Though that does include twenty minutes' walking, which doesn't count as time lost. Still.

Anyway. The interesting thing is how vulnerable I felt, being un-carred. Imperceptibly I've become accustomed to having that metal shell around me when I'm out and about. I've been working in the suburbs for years now, and all my walking and bussing habits have gradually disappeared. I've become car-dependent. It's insidious.

I've speculated before about the attraction of cars having more to do with territory than with convenience. It's a little private space of your own, travelling around with you. The speed at which you travel confers a kind of anonymity. So you're picking your nose at 158th avenue; who will ever know it was you, by the time you get to 182nd? Everything goes away. The world is disposable. But this little lair, with whatever comforts most signify to you, it does accompany you. A room of your own.

Recently, rather than going into the Burgerville to have lunch, I went through its drive-thru, and then stopped in the grocery-store parking lot to eat my hamburger in my car. It is not a pleasant parking lot, of course. There are no pleasant parking lots. It's a field of asphalt with cars parked in it.

Even the interior of Burgerville is a far pleasanter place. What impulse drove me to eat here? Just that it was my own nest, my little six square yards of territory. I had escaped from the public space of cubicle-land. I wanted to be in my own space, however unpromising that space might be. I cranked up my radio, unwrapped my hamburger, and ate.

When I was done I licked my fingers, wiped them, crumpled up the paper bag with the hamburger-wrapping and napkins inside -- with a strong twinge of environmental guilt -- and put the car in reverse. Time to drive back to the office.

For the first time I focused on the car directly facing mine. It wasn't empty. Through the reflections on the windshield I could see a woman, dressed in office casual, hunched in the driver's seat. Her head was bowed over a little cardboard tray of french fries. I could see her tousled brown hair, but not her face. She was plucking the french fries up in bunches, and loading them methodically into an unseen mouth. She didn't look up as I backed my car away from hers.

Maybe I will start taking the train.

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