It’s almost over and some of you know what I’m talking about. It’s that spooky inhabitant of a reality which private school parents know intimately- car pool. Admit it. You’re kids are too special to join the hoi polloi on the public school bus or maybe we parents just are too special to be seen loading them up when we can strut about in our chrome trimmed, leather padded, twelve mile per gallon ego-mobiles with super charged V50 engines designed by NASA.
On a typical afternoon we swish through artist designed, hand forged iron gates reminiscent of a private housing estate. Maybe these bombastic barriers exist for the sake of security or just to strike some tone of exclusivity that upper class wannabe parents expect. Either way, once inside, certain rules of behavior and etiquette apply to all inmates. Don’t get sideways with The Man.
I engage that endless carpool lane to perdition, my usual degree of driving care now accelerated 1000% and my speed decelerated enough to accommodate a no wake zone in a mangrove bordered channel. The slightest mishap might drive untold numbers of herons and manatees and sea turtles right to the brink of extinction. I’m so alert that my eyes are popping out of their crow footed sockets. My right foot nervously twitches back and forth between the gas and the brake. Sometimes late at night I awake to find my wife’s foot twitching that same way while she murmurs in a distressed hush, “No, no. Please, no.” It’s PTCS, Post Carpool Trauma Syndrome, and there’s no cure.
Dozens of luxury SUV’s stretch out before my grill and a dozen more trail my tailpipe. In the ancient Volvo wagon I’m Dinky, the eighth dwarf who didn’t make the script cut in Snow White. Don’t ask me why the convoy stops or starts or remains in suspended animation for interminable periods. I can’t see anything but the white, oval stickers on the land yacht ahead announcing it’s owner’s proclivity to vacation in JH, her identity as LAX MOM, and the fact that somebody in the family has run 26.2 miles. The marathon runner was probably the dog now painting the rear window with a fresh coat of slobber.
Every forty yards speed bumps the height of Pike’s Peak jump out from under LAXMOM’s rear bumper. Marathon dog topples back and forth. The speed breakers are so imposing, signs should indicate: “Bumps May Freeze Before Road.” So imposing they effect, in even the most unrepentant speeder, the vehicular conservatism of some inhabitant of a sunbelt retirement community.
But I’m not going to slink along behind this marathon running, Jackson Hole vacationing dog any longer because Option Number Two lies just ahead.
You have to be really good at carpool to exercise Op 2. It’s like unlocking the highest level in one of those police chase video games: you have to drive more nimbly than Speed Racer, be more audacious than James Bond, and decode all the shortcuts faster than a politician can find a handout. Today, I’m on top of my game and the rented off-duty cop sanctions my turn with a knowing smile and a flick of the first two fingers of one hand. I wave back with the same flick and turn in to the infield parking lot.
You see, Op 2 allows the elite parent to park, walk to the student waiting area, and personally claim one’s child. It’s a genius strategy for the truly talented multi-tasker because while cellular phoning is unswervingly verboten in your car, there’s no prohibition on outdoor ambulatory cell use. And if you act really smooth, with one of those ear mounted Star Trek communicators and the attitude of a seasoned, metro-sexual, golf resort regular, you never have to actually terminate your phone conversation when they ask for your child’s name. You just whisper: “Trouble in the Market.”
I navigate to a space between a breezy, overpriced Lexus sports coup and a Cadillac Escalade with headlights like the eyes on a genetically mutated Siamese cat. Check the time. Carpool’s only just begun. Grab the blazer off the back seat and sling it over one shoulder just to affect the accepted, swank parent dress code. I’ve made it; really got this fatherhood thing down. A true car pool Grand Master. A Golden Boy.
Snapping along the sidewalk, a gabbing gaggle of desperate housewives check me out. Some flirt in couture tennis togs or designer work out clothes and others wear chic, low rider mommy outfits. I smile to a couple other dads. It wouldn’t be cool to have an actual conversation. The name-taker sees my approach and mentions my kid’s name with the vocal uptilt of a question. I nod and lean casually back against a railing, listening to the phone. I am so good. I can beat the system like a stubborn mule. My nine year old walks out with that look of love and admiration all parents crave.
Then he grimaces. “Dad, school ended three minutes ago! You’re late…again. How embarrassing could you get?!”
I may never get the hang of this.