Almost every weekday morning for the past 14 years, I've walked to a corner near my house, opened the door of a stranger's car, and climbed in. There's a smile, a greeting, and then we usually return to our private worlds as the driver rushes another stranger and me to San Francisco.
The casual car pool has been a Bay Area institution for more than 20 years, successful because it's a grassroots effort where people are engaged in a symbiotic relationship: the driver rides in the car pool lane and pays no toll, and the passengers get to the city quickly, at no cost. The environment is a beneficiary as well, with fewer cars on the road.
While the car pool etiquette suggests silence, I've been in many rousing political discussions, have been privy to many confessions (mostly on Monday mornings), and have made several friends. I've received more tips than I can recall about "the best:" the best places to stay in Tuscany, the best real estate agent, the best sushi.
Sadly, all of this might change on July 1 when the state, in its quest for more funds, will start charging car pool drivers a toll of $2.50 to cross the Bay Bridge, and $3.00 to cross the Golden Gate. What was once a casual car pool might become a formal car pool. Should each passenger offer the driver $1.00? Will the driver ask for a fare and set off tensions if one of the passengers refuses to pay?
I can only hope the casual car pool withstands our current economic woes and doesn't go the way of drive-in movies. On the bright side, the change could lead to heated discussions about government intervention, and we might come up with better solutions to the mess we're in.