This is a confession about me, the vanpool driver, and how I’ve begun to secretly hate the other riders on our van. It’s no different than what happens to bus drivers, taxi drivers, airplane pilots: people who get paid carting other people around. I don’t even get paid for it, I volunteer.
The vanpool program is funded by the county, to encourage people to carpool to work. They give you a mini-van, pay for the gas and maintenance, and then employers help subsidize the monthly rental and some provide free parking in the employee garage. It’s a sweet deal, but someone’s got to drive.
I volunteered because I’ve been in other vans where the drivers were bad, and I couldn’t relax. And if I can’t relax, I might as well drive. Now that I drive, everyone else can just relax. I watch them in the rear view mirror, either slumped back drooling or finger-fucking their phones.
And because it’s a vanpool with colleagues of mixed age, race, and musical taste, we normalize it by playing NPR. They talk about the traffic at precisely the same time every day, and I gauge if we’re on track to arrive by precisely what mile marker or highway feature we’re passing.
Yesterday, the windshield had some muck on it so I hit the wiper to engage the cleaning fluid and I guess it spritzed on one of the riders as she was getting in the van and she made a comment about it, but I didn’t know the fluid could really go that far, and I didn’t apologize. That’s when the crack started to open; I didn’t feel bad about getting her wet.
Then, another one of the riders said Is it Thursday already? (She’s always surprised by what day it is, the same one who asks me to repeat what the newscaster just said because she’s too busy talking over it.)
Another rider, who insists on sitting in the back and often leaves her jacket there, never pays her monthly dues on time and when she does, asks if it’s OK to take quarters. I actually had to send an Outlook reminder to everyone to pay their monthly dues on a set day, and I tried to address this thing about ‘cash only’ in the planner, because people had the nerve to give me their eight dollars by cleaning out their change jars. Who carries change anymore? Old people.
Sudhakar rides shot gun whenever possible, and doesn’t offer it to the others. He always gives me a smile and a greeting, and seems to enjoy the ride. He leaves his phone alone and doesn’t nap. But we’ve had issues with his punctuality and last week, he was four minutes late on the return home. So I sent an email the following day and coated it with niceties about the importance of being on time for people who have other commitments, and that seems to be working.
But in my dream this week, it was Sudhakar who was driving for some reason. And we weren’t on our normal route, on the highway: instead, we were in the middle of Nebraska or Oklahoma, the dream told me that, and I knew that’s where we were because on the passenger’s side, there was a dark funnel taking shape, what could be a tornado or a typhoon, foaming, growing more and more ominous.
I started to direct from the back seat, to cry out and point, Look! But no one noticed, and the typhoon-thing started to spit out chunks of ice. The ice made sounds in my dream like a glacier calving, and a chunk hit the van, causing us to reel out of control.
I took the wheel from Sudhakar, who was either dead now or impaired, and jerked the vehicle in the other direction. The windshield was gone and the van was starting to freeze over; the dials had cracks in them and I felt like a jet pilot now, flicking switches and adjusting the heat to aim at the floor.
We stopped at a convenience store for bottled water. The other riders were anonymous in that dream-way that you sense others are there but the truth is, this dream is about you. Tell it to your therapist.
I walked in the convenience store and was met with the blasé attitude of the workers, who sat slumped on their stools, seemingly unaware of the typhoon thing, likely my own personal nightmare. And even though the dream told me to load up on supplies in that desperate, hoarder way, I passed on the soft pretzels and hot dogs, which looked like they were turning on the spit too long.
And I got back in the van, and was redeemed now as the Primary Driver, and when I awoke, I felt marvelous and superior again, all alone.