“What are you doing?” I barked.
“Getting the news,” she said. She looked out the window, avoiding my gaze.
For 17 minutes I listened to commercials, announcer endorsements, a traffic report accidentally repeated from last Friday’s commute, more commercials, three station identifications, and a garbled test of the Emergency Broadcast System.
I snapped. “Just what exactly are you subjecting me to?”
“Talk radio! It’s what I listen to on the drive to work.”
The compulsion to pull to the curb and push my wife out was overwhelming. If a tractor-trailer hadn’t been two car lengths behind me in the slow lane, I might have dumped her then and there.
“On yourj drive to work?” I complained. “What about what I listen to on my drive to work?”
“Well…” She went into a well-rehearsed speech, apparently prepared for this moment. “When we carpool, you have to learn how to share the vehicle with those whom you’re driving with…”
I knew what she was up to. This speech would slip in the word “responsibility” and the idea of caring for those onboard. She would use the same metaphor I’d drilled into the first two daughters when they started to drive. I was being cornered, and I hadn’t even merged onto Interstate 805.
Finally, we arrived at my place of employment. I handed the car keys to my wife. And for eight hours, I went about my day, exactly as I had done for the past eight months while she was at home. But then I had to wait for her to come and get me. This would become my time to nap — between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on her day — in my office. But on this, the first day, the waiting was a drag.
She arrived to pick me up, an hour late and a scowl on her face.
“How was your first day?” I asked gingerly.
“Fine,” she snapped. She slammed the car into gear and left two black lines up the office driveway. The car thundered down La Jolla Village Drive. She changed lanes without signaling, sped up some more, cut off a guy in a Camaro, and barged onto the 52. The only thing she didn’t do was send a text message.
“I want to be younger, thinner, and better looking,” she said, crossing four lanes in a heartbeat. I tightened my seat belt, just in case.
“Everybody at work is so much younger than me,” she said. “Even my supervisor said he had to go and take care of his ‘elderly’ 50-year-old father.”
I opted to not look at her, but I could feel her staring at me.
“Keep your eyes on the road, Sweetie,” I said. I reached across the seat and pushed the steering wheel to prevent another lane change.
She grumbled most of the way home and most of the way to work the next day. That first week, she talked about learning a new skill at the job. By Friday, I knew who she was having lunch with.
At the start of the second week, her car was still at the repair shop.
“Can you pay to fix it?” she asked. “I won’t have a paycheck for another two weeks.”
The transmission had gone out just days before she started work, and we had avoided discussing the cost of repairing it.
“I thought we were carpooling,” I said. “Now you want me to finance your repairs?” I laughed — I meant it as a joke. She wasn’t laughing.
The 30-mile ride was quiet that day. Even the radio was off. She dropped me at work and left quietly. The ride home was also quiet. We exchanged not a word.
The next morning, I called the repair shop and put the bill on my credit card. My wife said nothing. I assumed she was struggling with getting up so early — until Wednesday came, when on the commute she grumbled, “How come we go this way?” Why was I driving the “roundabout” route to work? It had been eight months since my wife had traveled on Interstate 8 to work, but how could she have forgotten how bad morning traffic could be?
“I try to avoid bottlenecks,” I said. “So I’m not late to work.”
“But you get to work so early. There’s no one else around.”
This was true. I was usually the first person in to work in the morning, and now that we were carpooling, I arrived even earlier.
“Can we try my route to work tomorrow?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
The next day, we took my wife’s route. The freeway was packed. I got to work 10 minutes late, and she was written up for being 20 minutes late. She never questioned my analysis of rush-hour traffic again.
The middle of the third week, we got her car back, along with a price tag for the repair that was more like a used-car sticker price. She’d been without the vehicle for so long, I suggested we take her car to work the next day, just to give it a run. We rose, went through our morning rituals, and got into the car on time. Half a mile down the road, she pulled into a gas station and stopped beside a pump. The ignition went off. We sat in the car.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked. I looked around, knowing that, on the West Coast, full-service gas stations are limited to the state of Oregon.
She said, “I’m waiting for you to put gas in my car.”
I had put gas into my car, churning through a tank and a half each week for the past three weeks. While the fuel economy had dropped (due to the extra weight), I was happy knowing that putting an additional $10 in the tank was cheaper than the $50 needed to fill her SUV. But now she wanted me to put gas in her car? After already paying for the repairs?