I wait in my driveway, annoyed, for my sophomore sister to run out of the house clutching two smoothies and poorly buttered toast. I demand she “DJ,” God forbid I waste my own phone battery, and once again we begin our uniquely graceful pilgrimage to school.
The drive becomes impossibly familiar, an etch-a-sketch of simple lefts and rights repeated monotonously. Soon, it becomes hard not to desperately search for something, anything, to think about. Then it becomes harder to find a way to stop the thinking entirely.
The solution is to switch gears, literally and metaphorically. Instead of thinking, I begin to play. First it’s loud, aggressive, music that stifles any quiet musings. But next I start to play games.
I turn the impersonal cars around me into players, extending myself beyond the reach of my dashboard. It’s not long after this new awareness sets in that I realize the cars around me are far from impersonal; they are actually my classmates, friends and even teachers, shuttling to and from school with the expected rhythm of a pendulum.
When I know the players, it’s more fun to compete against them. Don’t worry; I don’t mimic the reckless and violent streets of Grand Theft Auto. Instead, I model the style of my game after the crowd favorite Mario Kart.
I start the game, pressing “A” repeatedly on the game cube control, the snooze button on my alarm. I start in sixth place, falling neatly between the 12th place Palisades players and the unfairly close Beverly Hills competitors. I enter my vehicle of choice, a white unwashed Highlander (to be fair, I’ve yet to unlock the other cars). My sophomore sister now becomes my partner, the Yoshi to my Toad, and the toast she fumbles with becomes our fuel. We buckle our seatbelts and start our drive.
In an attempt to gain ground, I take an early left turn off of Sunset. I pray that the car that took its left in front of me isn’t a super slow truck, and luckily I am rewarded, it’s actually my best friend. It’s now that I’m unavoidably reminded that driving to school is a shared experience. I am in no way isolated; we are all united by the traffic, the weather, and even the Wednesday morning garbage truck, a complete game malfunction, which forces us to all suffer painfully while the system reboots.
I begin to reflect on the many trips to school I have made in the last few years. In my time at Harvard-Westlake I have fallen again and again into unlikely and kind carpools. I have pulled up at hilariously timed stoplights, shyly pretending not to see the classmate next to me. I have caught old friends singing in their cars and similarly have been caught dancing in mine by a teacher. I have grown to search for the Harvard-Westlake parking pass dangling from rearview mirrors, finding in it an unmistakable sense of comfort and community.
As I enter the home stretch, the one-laned Coldwater Canyon locks in my final rank. I have been playing for both ambiguous and tangible goals: getting to school on time, not crashing, competing against my friends and distracting myself.
However, as I pull into Hamilton and my mind swims with suppressed worries and the clock reads 8:03 a.m., I realize that my attendance record falls into accord with my Mario Kart career, and that despite those rare victories, I’ve lost yet again. But, as I watch my school disjointedly park and fluidly file into class together, I win in a different way.