The worst kind of co-worker you can have is the perky, evangelist type – the kind that can sell a refrigerator in the arctic. Before you know it, the office is awash in Greenpeace calendars and smells like Ben-Gay, the remedy for the office Habitat For Humanity hammer party.
Being no intellectual match for our evangelist, Michelle, I recently found myself shanghaied into the maiden voyage of our Spokane Transit Authority van pool. In our big box parking lot meeting point, I found myself experiencing some of the same feelings I had as a freshman, new in the school district, waiting for the school bus. “Will the other kids like me?” “Will my packed lunch reek?”
Mid-thought, the van arrives. Brand new, 15-passenger, appliance white, it looks like a motorized Moby Dick. Looks can be deceiving however. This is no geek-mobile, it’s a chick magnet. It must be. It’s almost all “chicks” riding. Of the 12 or 13 van-pool participants – all are women, except for me and one other man. Either women are more practical or it takes the “jaws of life” to pry the car keys out of a man’s tightly clenched commuter hands, no matter how much oil goes for a barrel.
I quickly surmise, “Well, there goes any chance for the sports talk channel on the van radio,” and I make a note to add a portable radio to my commute gear.
Once in the van, we quickly fall into roles. There’s the driver/evangelist, Michelle. There’s a back-up driver, a woman. There’s also a van bookkeeper, a woman, in the shotgun seat. I put aside paranoid thoughts that this might be some radical, NOW four-wheeled social experiment as the other male and I move into the roles of doorman and van-backing-up monitor.
We make two other stops, surprisingly quick, and soon are motoring up Interstate 90 to complete our 15-mile run to our downtown government offices. To qualify for STA van-pool sponsorship, the trip must be at least 10 one-way miles.
Riding does have its advantages. I casually noticed a couple of nice homes I never seemed to have noticed before when I drove. I also got to observe in more detail the slow progress of the two-legged snails working on the Argonne to Sullivan freeway expansion. Maybe later I could organize a new game of watching that construction, along the lines of “I Spy,” called “I Detect Movement.”
If a calm trip or sightseeing isn’t enough reward for participating in van pooling, our STA and county commute trip reduction signup bonuses include enough inducements to make a game show contestant blush. Our first month is free, and less than $10 a month per rider afterward. Also, we receive a $75 credit card for climbing aboard. Finally, a Web site tracks our participation and allows us to win prizes while it bottom-lines our cash savings and the amount of carbon monoxide we didn’t expel into the Spokane air on a solo trip. The Web site unfortunately lists the carbon monoxide savings in pounds, a confusing measurement for a gas. For guys, pound measurements are only applicable to “How much did you take to the dump?” and “How much did you put on after a day at Pig Out in the Park?”
When I started this van pooling, I thought I’d drop out when Michelle wasn’t looking, write a quick “Why I Left the Van Pool,” and be done with it but the experience has been better than advertised. I’m sticking with it.
Of course, I still would make improvements – like paint the van in NASCAR colors and maybe add a beverage cart. Better air conditioning would be nice, too. Even now the front of the van can be in “Nome,” but the tail is in “Phoenix.” I might also encourage the riders to try different seats versus always claiming specific ones.
Maybe we could try new roles, too. I know I’ll have a new one. Last Friday, while performing my role as van-backing-up monitor, I was asked by the lady driver zeroing in on a parking space, “Am I between the lines?” My answer was, “You’re in the same ZIP code.”
Next week, I get both a new role and a new seat – on the roof.
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