Friday, September 7, 2007

Casual racism in the casual carpool.

The casual carpool is something I have a very hard time explaining to anyone who doesn't live in Oakland. The short version is: you get in strangers' cars and they drive you across the Bay Bridge and drop you off. But it's not what it sounds like! It's safe! A lot of people actually do it! It lets drivers use the carpool lane and avoid the toll, and it lets the carless hitch a free ride to work. But despite all that, there is one thing that is NOT good about the carpool. See, what makes it work is that no one talks. Riders traditionally say "Good Morning" when they get in the car and "Thanks" when they get out, and that's it. In my experience, any time this unspoken rule is broken, the conversation that follows is inevitably so uncomfortable that I have to fight the urge to jump out of the car at 65 mph. I don't know why this is.

In the last few weeks, I've gotten into a several cars where the driver and the other passenger besides myself struck up a conversation. Here is a sampling of what was said:

"Asians really don't know how to handle themselves on the road."

White driver to black passenger who is, mind you, a STRANGER: "Oh you lived in Houston. Did you encounter a lot of racism?"

Driver: "I don't know how this car will handle in the wind and rain."
Passenger: "I think it'll handle all right."
Driver: "Oh sure, I'll just believe you. Are you an engineer or something?"

"I was mugged near Lake Merritt...now I cross the street when I see black teenagers."

"I don't usually yell at other drivers this much."

1 comment:

gitarebba said...

I had to add:

First comment: "Hope the fog breaks."
Response: "Let's not talk."
[I AM NOT KIDDING ABOUT THIS]

Also, I once got picked up by a stretch limo. After getting in, the person behind me closed the door (you only need 3 to use the carpool lane) and those behind us banged on the door.

Moral of the story is: Follow the etiquette and be tough. Casual Carpool is not for the weak or chatty.