It doesn’t get more left coast than this. We congregate daily outside the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations on the East Bay, standing in two orderly lines of commuters, as the drivers swoop in and pick us up. One line is for people who want to be dropped off in the San Francisco Financial district, and the other near the Civic Center.
In some cars there is a shared silence, listening to National Public Radio, while in other cars the driver might initiate a conversation. Usually, Monday mornings are quiet, and Thursdays are optimistic.
There is a website where protocol suggests the radio station and that the driver should have the prerogative to initiate conversation. You can complain on the website about certain drivers’ abilities, or a passenger who lavishes himself with too much aftershave.
On the passenger’s door of my car there is a magnetic advert for my book, The Accidental Activist. A few times a month someone asks about it, and I have a captive audience of two to ply my pitch. I keep it short, as I feel mildly guilty that they have no escape. It’s a long way to jump from the Bay Bridge, though I would hope that my pitch isn’t quite that excruciating.
Sometimes the discussion might be about politics, a book that the passenger is reading, or the latest performance of the Warriors, Giants, 49ers, or Raiders. It can get intense. I once drove two lawyers who discovered that they were soon to face each other in trial, only because I innocently commented on an NPR story about tenant/landlord rights.
It doesn’t matter what the conversation is, or even whether it takes place. Online networking has replaced the social commentary that traditionally transpired in coffee houses or bars, headphones have cut off the opportunity for spontaneous discussion, and perhaps a greater need for guarded self-preservation has also erected walls.
Still, in a car for twenty minutes a day, three strangers share some time together. Whether in silence, listening, or talking, they are still spending some time together. And in a world of growing isolation, even as people pack into smaller geographical areas, that is a welcomed relief.
But these people took car sharing to another level
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com