If it wasn't for the advantages of driving carpool, I would have kicked Joan out long ago. The woman is a supercilious, judgmental know-it-all and those are her good points but considering that she and I live out in the boonies and considering that she's the only one I can carpool with, I put up with her just so I can use the frickin' car pool lanes.
But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
On the face of it, the deal seemed pretty good. The two of us were matched up by a program at work and when I first met Joan, I thought this would work well. Of course, we both lived in the same area. We worked the same schedules. Joan was 38 and she was attractive and she was interesting to talk to, but the most important thing was Joan wanted to leave the driving to me and that was just the way I wanted it.
But almost from the first moment we got in the car together, problems started to develop. Joan didn't like the music I liked. Joan was a single mom and it seemed like she didn't like men all that much, but then hey, it seemed she didn't like most women all that much either. She loved to complain and bitch, usually about work but not exclusively. In fact, the only thing that made the ride bearable was the fact that she didn't want to drive and seemed to have no complaints about the way I drove.
We'd only been going for a week and I was starting to think I'd made a really big mistake. I was even thinking about going back to driving solo. The commute would probably take 30 minutes longer but it might just be worth it if it meant I could get rid of Joan.
In fact, I'd pretty much made the decision to do it when I met Kevin in the cafeteria. "Dude," he said. "What's wrong?"
"Looks like I'm going to be flying solo again on the commute."
"Dude, what's wrong?"
"It's just not working out," I told him. "I mean, Joan's okay as a person and here on the job, she's fine, but in the car, I just can't take her."
"So change her."
"I would if I could but I told you, there's no one else near where I live."
"I didn't say exchange her. I said change her."
"What do you mean, change her?"
"Dude, haven't you heard of thecommuterbuddies.com?"
I shook my head. "What's that?"
"Dude. It's like this totally cool stuff. You can buy all kinds of shit there to help the commute."
"So go online and check it out. They got all kinds of products to help out with the commute. I'm sure they got something there that would help you out."
"The commute's fine," I said. "It's her that's the problem."
"Don't do anything rash, man. I mean, check it out, dude, and if you still can't find what you want, you can always quit later."
Kevin had a point there. There really was no harm in checking the site out, so I did.
The stuff looked pretty stupid if you asked me. It was like games you could play in the car, and books on how to deal with troubled people. A book wasn't going to solve my problem unless I went and hit Joan over the head with it. I wondered why Kevin thought this would be of any use at all.
But then I saw it. It was a link that seemed out of place. I was curious so I followed it.
It asked me for a username and password.
Okay, this was probably where the cool stuff was, I figured. The problem was figuring out how to get to it. I saw no registration link. I went back to the main page but that was no help either. The site map didn't show any registration information either. So how was I going to get past the username/password check.
I entered nothing and I hit return figuring that an obviously wrong password would take me to a page that might tell me how to register.
A new page opened up and I was in and almost immediately, I could see why Kevin liked this place. Almost from the beginning, I was seeing how this stuff could help me if it actually worked. I put the items I wanted in my shopping cart and I moved on to buy them. I supposed I could live with the current commute situation for at least a little while longer, just to see if these things would actually work as advertised.
Of course, that didn't help with the ride with Joan, at least not immediately. She'd get in the car and she'd start to bitch and I just had to grit my teeth and tell myself to hang on for just a little while longer. By the time the package arrived, I was wondering why I hadn't kicked out the few extra bucks for expedited shipping.
The package arrived a few days later. I ripped it open and pulled out my order. The packing list showed just about everything I wanted was there except for one item which I was assured would be mailed soon and at the bottom, it said, "From your buddies at thecommuterbuddies.com."
I couldn't wait to try it out. The next morning, I was ready. When Joan got in the car, I popped my newest purchase in the tape deck and let it run.
Joan, of course, didn't like it. "I don't know how you can listen to this crap."
"I like it," I said. "Don't you?"
"No. It sounds like something my daughter would listen to. No wait. I think my daughter's got better taste than that."
"Well hey, it's new. Just got it yesterday and I wanted to give it a listen, okay?"
I could tell she didn't like it though. Really, it wasn't my sort of thing either, but if what the commuterbuddies said was right, it would affect all passengers while leaving the driver alone. Joan was staring out the window and her fingers would twitch nervously. I saw her scowl a couple of times. I couldn't wait to see if the commuterbuddies were right.
Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. "Can we change that tape," she asked."
I shook my head. "No, I'm listening to it. It won't be much longer now."
"Fine, but tomorrow, I'm going to bring my own tape."
She went to staring out of the window again.
We were at a stop light and she was staring at a woman in a convertible next to us. "Would you look at that?"
"What," I asked.
"That woman in the car there."
"What about her?"
"Look at her. She's a little tramp."
"I don't know," I told her. "She looks fine to me."
She snorted. "That's because you're a man. Men don't know anything."
"I don't know," I said. "Looks like she's on her way to work, just like you. As far as I can tell, it looks to me like she's just trying to make a living."
Joan snorted again. "Yeah, maybe? As a little fucking whore." She went back to staring at the woman in the car next to her and I didn't say anything.
The light turned green and we were rolling again. "I don't know," I said again. "I didn't see anything with the woman in the car there. I really didn't."
Joan snorted but she didn't say anything.
"Well what was wrong with her."
"I told you. She looked like a little fucking tramp."
"I thought you said she looked like a whore."
"Well yeah, she looked like that, too, but I was trying to be nice."
There was something different in her voice. Joan was still saying the same things she always said but her voice seemed to lack the I'm-right-and-you're-wrong certainty that Joan's pronouncements always carried. Her words were softer somehow. If what I was told was right, she was ready. "I don't know," I told her. "It seems to me like you're almost jealous of her."
"Of that bimbo," Joan snorted derisively. "Yeah right, why would I be jealous of her?"
"I don't know why, but it just seems she's more comfortable with her body than you are with yours."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means she's an attractive woman and it means she's not afraid to show it. Maybe if you were more confident in your appearance, maybe you'd be okay with it, too."
"You want me to dress like that little whore?"
"Did I say that?"
"But I thought--"
"I just said that she seemed more confident in her body than you seemed with yours."
"Yeah right," Joan said. "I don't have to dress like a fucking whore to show how much I like my body."
"I guess," I said noncommittally. "I mean sure, if that's what you want to think, and just for the record, I think you look fine even if you don't think so. I just wished you felt that way, too."
Joan just snorted but she didn't say anything. I suppose I should have known then that something was up but maybe I was just glad that something had come along that could shut the bitch up. To tell the truth, if this was how we did it from now on, just driving in silence, that would be a definite step up from the way things had been.
Joan hopped out of the car as soon as we got to work and after a quick "Thanks," she was gone.
I didn't see her at all for the rest of the day which isn't all that unusual. We don't work in the same department. Heck, maybe if we had, I would have known what she was like before we'd ever got into a carpool together.
She hopped into my car a little after five. "Sorry I'm late," she said. "We had some things we needed to finish up at work."
"No problem," I told her, "and besides, it's not like you're that late."
"I know, but still..."
I put the car in gear and pulled out into traffic. I flipped on the radio and inserted the same tape that I'd played that morning.
"Oh geez, can we not do that again," she said.
"That tape sounds like crap. Can we listen to something else?"
"I like it."
She gritted her teeth but she didn't try and get me to change the tape again. "Listen," she said, "I've been thinking."
"Yeah, about what?"
"About this morning. I'm thinking maybe we should ... you know ... maybe we should drive on our own from now on."
"Really," I said. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know. It's just that after what you were saying this morning, I mean if that's the way you think about me--"
"You seemed to be saying I should be more like that tramp in that car next to me and if that's the way you think about me, well then, I think maybe we shouldn't be riding together."
"Did I say I wanted you to be like her?"
I was trying to remember exactly what I had said. "I think I told you you I thought you had a good body. I think I told you you should be proud of it."
"I think all we were talking about was that I thought the girl in the other car was more confident in her appearance."
"I think maybe I said you might want to be as confident as her but I don't think I ever wanted you to be her."
I couldn't help but notice the change. Twenty-four hours ago, if Joan had told me she didn't want to carpool anymore, I'm sure I would have let her go but now I wanted to see how far I could make her go. "Believe me," I told her, "I'm not about to ask you to show yourself off."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I know you. I know how you are."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh man, I can see I'm upsetting you again."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You're repressed, Joan."
"You're repressed. Don't worry. It's not like I'm going to tell anybody, but I can tell. You have a great body. You want to show it off, but your pride won't let you."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"That girl in the other car this morning, she was like twenty-something, right, and she had great tits, but you know what, I'll bet yours are just as good but your pride just won't let you show them off."
"That's ridiculous. I'm not some little tramp."
"Did I say you were," I asked. "I didn't say anything of the kind but then I suppose an outburst like that is to be expected."
"Expected? Expected why?"
"Because you've got a great body. You see a girl like that in the next car over and you want to prove your body is just as good as hers, but you can't. It's understandable."
"But that's ... that's ridiculous."
"I don't think so and like I say, it's understandable. I mean I know you're repressed and that's okay. I imagine you'd like to be more open but if you can't be, that's okay, too. I understand."
Joan was just staring at me with this look of utter bewilderment on her face. "I am not repressed," she said in a tone that lacked some of her past conviction.
"Sure, Joan," I said. "Sure. If that's what you want to think. Sure."
We rode on in silence with Joan staring morosely out of the window. It was amazing but twenty-four hours ago, I would have been satisfied with a nice, quiet ride but not anymore. I knew then and there that I wanted more.
Without Joan's incessant bickering, we made the trip quickly and we soon pulled up in front of her house. "So," I said, "same time tomorrow."
That seemed to snap Joan out of her reverie. "I am not repressed," she said again.
"Yeah? Prove it."
For a second there, I thought she was going to do something but then she seemed to shake her head. "I'll see you same time tomorrow," she said and then she walked away from my car.