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By Jessica T

Goodbye, carpool

Uploaded: Jul 7, 2014

When I returned from maternity leave, I was aghast at the increase in traffic. My commute seemed as though it had increased by 30 minutes overnight. I hadn't seen traffic this bad since 2007, when we moved to the Bay Area. After the market crashed in 2008, my drive became lightening fast. Six years later traffic finally recovered -- a good omen for the economy but a bad one for my personal life.

I asked a dear friend who lives about a mile away if she'd carpool. We could zip to work in the carpool lane and recover that precious time. Plus, it would be fun. "Carpool?" she asked skeptically. "You always work late!" Alas, it's true. But wasn't I a mother-of-three now who could afford to leave a little earlier so as not to miss my kids' dinner, bath, and bedtime routine?

What she didn't say, but I heard (and cannot deny) is, "You're always late." I am always a little late. She, on the other hand, is pathologically on time. So much so that being even five minutes late makes her anxious. To this day I'm not sure what swayed her, but she agreed, reluctantly.

Carpooling is a strange exercise in coordination and parallel scheduling. I have three kids and a workaday life in the suburbs. My friend has no kids, frequently goes out in the evening, and travels for work and pleasure. It takes a special aptitude for flexibility to work around kid drop-off and pick-up, exercise, and meeting schedules. Sometimes we go weeks without being able make it work. But if we can, we carpool.

Two days a week, we go in a little late. Three days a week, we go in early and every day that we carpool, we leave the office at 5:30. We've made accommodations for each other's quirks. I religiously text her before I leave. She reads her email when she has to wait for me. It hasn't always been smooth sailing south in the HOV. There was the time I had to stay late, went incommunicado at the end of the day, and made her stick around the office later than she wanted. Or the time I picked her up (late) in the wrong location. Or the time I lashed out at her because I was sleep deprived and sick of feeling like I always had to drive due to her indefatigable travel schedule.

Even though it's taken some time to get right, carpooling is simply the best. We regale each other with stories from the weekend, the office, and our pasts. In a world where we are constantly telling women to find a sponsor if you want a seat at the boardroom table, my friend and I have the carpool.

We seek each other's advice on how to handle tricky situations at work. We update each other on new developments, and perhaps most importantly, we coach each other on how to negotiate, live in the moment, deal with high stress periods and crippling anxiety. I may have had a terrible morning with the kids and a dreadful day ahead, but if I'm crawling into my friend's Civic in the morning and evening, I have something to look forward to. I have a laugh and confidence on the way, and I'll be shuttled to work or home more quickly than usual. I can't remember the last time I bought gas, and while cars are probably not the answer to getting to work, we can feel a little better about reducing our carbon footprint.

All of this is to say that I'll be sad next month when we share our last carpool. My friend is relocating, moving on to a big job in a new town. It seems we got quite good at counseling each other - so good that she's finally realizing "her destiny" (as I like to say). Goodbye, carpool - it's the end of a short-lived nostalgic era, like that heart-wrenching summer in Philip Roth's novella.