Casual Carpool with the White Rabbit

Inquiring minds might be saying around now, how long am I going to have to keep looking at that blog post about jury duty?  Sure, it’s important, but litlove has already chewed up most of western literature in the amount of time it took you to talk about a single trip to the museum and the occasional jury duty summons.  

It’s true.  I’ll just say it now.  I have been slacking.   That weekend in L.A. and the one before it in Monterey rearranged my usual somewhat diligent DNA into a big ball of relaxation and sloth.  It is also spring here in northern California in a major big way.

But that’s over now.  I’m past jury duty and on to another institution — this time a local one — an institution that I really love, and learned to love more this morning because it resulted in not one, but FOUR, great book recommendations.

The institution is called Casual Carpool.  That’s the  name for the line that forms near the Safeway supermarket just down the hill from my house .  It began informally when most of you were mere children, as a way for solo drivers to take on two passengers and then zip triumphantly and smugly over the Bay Bridge in the carpool lane, which is reserved for cars with three or more occupants. 

Now, it’s become a bona fide force in the transportation scheme around here.  There’s a sign in front of the Safeway, and even a few rules about Casual Carpool — mainly, you can’t play really idiosyncratic music and you can’t talk too much to the passengers you pick up.  In turn, the passengers are not allowed to tell you which route to take to get onto the bridge on days like today when there was more traffic than I’ve ever, ever seen in my entire life.  Ever. 

Okay.  8:32 a.m.  I pick up rider number one.  A truly stunning young woman who, I realize when she says good morning, comes from some relaxed and wonderful country in Africa.  She is sweet and does not care in the least what sort of music I play.  (I know this because I actually asked her, just so I could hear her accent again.)  She sits in the back and for the rest of the trip I’m about to describe simply looked out the window and smiled.

Second passenger is, more or less, the white rabbit.  Nervous.  Twitchy.  Cute.  In his forties or early fifties.  Nice scholarly glasses.  When I asked him if he wanted to put his briefcase in the back seat, because it looked too large for his lap, he snapped, “NO.”  Yikes.  Is there something illegal in there?  How illegal could it be?   He’s wearing those professor glasses and he looks so otherworldly.  Is he smuggling into the U.S. a copy of Colm Toibin’s latest book, a book that’s only available in the UK? 

The next thing that happened occurred because I was flustered, in my defense.  But somehow, I took the very, very stupidiest way you can take to get on the bridge.  The carpool lane was inaccessible because there was so much regular traffic in the way.  As we crawled along, my chagrin grew.  We were not zipping by the foolish people who try to get to San Francisco alone in their cars — and zipping, believe me, is the whole reason for taking these strangers into my car.  It got so bad that I found myself wishing I’d brought something to offer the white rabbit and the African beauty to make up for my stupidity:  coffee, cookies, a nice scone.  Alas, I had nothing and I felt it would only increase my discomfort if I apologized more than the seven times I’d already apologized.  Silence spread through the car like vegemite.  (That is for you Charlotte.)

Suddenly, the white rabbit barked.  Actually, dear reader, he laughed.  He was enjoying his book.  By this time, normally, I’d have dropped him off.  But because of the traffic and my chagrin — two things not notable for producing anything pleasurable — I actually discovered some pretty wonderful things, things that I wormed out of him as I tried to distract everyone in the car from the fact that we seemed to be moving backwards rather than forwards. 

My method was simple:  first, I asked him about his reading preferences.  He was clearly an intense reader because he told me that although the book that had made him bark/laugh was not that great, he makes it a habit to finish a book he starts.  Novels, he likes novels, but he sometimes has trouble finding something really good to read, having read so many. 

Now, I’ll admit that he did not ask me about my reading preferences.  It is my experience that true readers are actually somewhat rare and they assume that most people do not read Good Things, so they don’t even get into book conversations.  Or maybe he didn’t want to talk to me because he hated the way I had chosen to get across the bay to San Francisco. 

Whatever.  All I know is that I felt it important to make some statement that would telegraph, I am a Serious Reader, but not a perfect one.  That way, we could talk until we got to the city.  My method of establishing my cred was a bit crude, but highly effective:  I confessed that I too liked to read  but was having trouble getting through Ulysses

This had an immediate impact on the white rabbit.  He sat up straighter and became … friendly.  Not someone who was mean and barking and short tempered and smuggling something illicit in his briefcase.  In short, he was a book lover and so was I.  Enough said.  Well, actually, more was said. Soon, we were on to the topic of his dissertation (he had been to graduate school in English and left short of his dissertation to become — what else? — a lawyer):  Evelyn Waugh.  From Evelyn Waugh we ventured over to Siegfried Sassoon’s series of fictional memoirs that White Rabbit said was wonderful.  And I believed him because he was On Fire about them. 

Paul Fussell, he said.  You’ve got to read, Abroad, a wonderful book about travel writing before the war.  And then he offered this tidbit:  You really should read Ellman’s biography of James Joyce.  Better than any concordance for setting the scene with Ulysses.  And, by the way, skim and skate over the surface of that book without guilt.  You will get wonderful things from Joyce as long as you don’t try to wring every last bit out.  Leave a little for the next time you read him.

And then, finally, as he was getting out of the car, he offered me his final suggestion, the way you’d hand someone a bouquet of lovely spring flowers, W. Jackson Bate’s biography of Samuel JonsonYou’ll like it and it will enlarge your reading considerably.  And then he was off, dear reader, leaving me scrambling for a pen to get down all those great suggestions.

Turns out I’m done slacking.  I went over to Booksprice and Amazon and ordered every single thing he recommended.  Next month is my casual carpool reading month.

Sitting up straight now, BL


30 thoughts on “Casual Carpool with the White Rabbit

  1. That was great fun to read. I was disappointed that you had to stop writing. I was hoping that it would (will) morph into a thrilling short story–“Sliding (Van) Doors”? Such a great gift of material to run with. I’ve written a couple stories based on BART rides.

  2. Great – thanks for the peek into Northern Cal transport and life. I think there should be a general rule about not talking too much. And pAoor white rabbit, surrounded by philistines. Glad you made a connection there. Do you think he’d be disappointed that my favorite Joyce work is still The Dead?

  3. I want a Casual Carpool in my life! It sounds like such a wonderful concept. And I agree with Smokey that this could make a great and thrilling short story. And another thing: don’t you somehow feel that books that almost-strangers tell you to read are like messages you’ve gotten from somewhere, and it’s Very Important that you read them? I can resist the books my friends and family recommend so much better than I can a book that a stranger says is good, especially if that stranger says something like, “You’ll love it and it will enlarge your reading considerably.”

  4. well, this isn’t a book exactly…but i’ve been meaning to send you this url.

    It’s a website that reproduces journals and letters and a bunch of other stuff from two different towns, one north and one south, from the civil war.

    Just reminded me of you, wondering about people and what they think/thought and feel/felt.

    novel #3?

  5. How perfect that you should collect an erudite reader in your Casual Carpool. It’s like the universe came along and gave you a gentle nudge towards your next books.

    Just thinking of that Vegemite silence – was it dark, thick and just a little smelly?

  6. Any reference to my favourite topping, Vegemite, brings me out of my shell. (Charlotte, have you ever tried a thin scrape of vegemite coated with honey on buttered fresh bread? A sort of sweet and sour effect)

    More talk of Ulysses. I can see I am destined to buy the book. And to attempt to read it. Perhaps I will take your passenger’s suggestion and skim it. Sometimes the basic ideas in the book come later, after the last page has been read.

  7. What fun! And thanks for sharing your White Rabbit’s reading suggestions. They all sound delicious to me, and I’m going to look them up on Amazon too.

  8. Pingback: Lit L Hop Rabbitry » Blog Archive » The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings (Reading Railroad Books)

  9. I have never heard of anything as sensible as your casual carpool. As far as I know there is nothing like it in the UK, probabaly because no local authority has gone as far as designating traffic lanes for ‘full’ cars. We do have bus and taxi lanes but that’s as far as we’ve gone. I have an awful feeling that it wouldn’t take off over here. People would be too worried about geting mugged. Which is a terrible thing to have to write, but I’m fairly sure it’s true.

  10. Ann, It’s very interesting how some traditions will fly in some cultures and not in others. The worst thing that happens in the casual carpool is bad music. Also, you are always with one other person in the car — sometimes two — an arrangement that seems to minimize the possibility of someone behaving badly. I’ve seen people decline rides, but only very occasionally, generally because the car’s such a beater it’s not clear it’ll make it over the bridge.

    Scott, The idea that there’s a Siegrfried Trifecta happening anywhere in the universe cheers me immensely.

    Hey Del, They’re all on the way to me, and when I get to them, I’ll be sure to report back.

    Dear Archie, I’m with you on that method of reading. As for sweet & sour vegemite toast, I’ll just say how glad I am that you and Charlotte can share that bliss.

    Exactly Charlotte. Dark, thick and a little smelly. All it needed to be put right was a bit of honey in the form of book talk.

    Ms. Open Palm — That is a terrific site and I’m so grateful to you for passing it along. I can see hours of pleasurable perusing ahead.

    You will simply have to leave Connecticut and move to the Bay Area, Sandi. That should do it, I think. The appearance of an eccentric, oracular stranger in the life of a busy woman is to be taken seriously, I agree.

    It was nice, SS. (I’ve missed reading your blog. It was lovely to go over there and see all those good things you’ve been writing about.)

    Dear Ann of Zen, No, I don’t think he’d be disappointed in the least. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to hear anyone’s even reading The Dead!

    Hello HMH, I have never actually used the word “cozen” before, and am going to be on the lookout for chances to deploy it in conversation or writing. Thanks for putting it into circulation.

    Hi Smokey, Thank you. The things that can happen on the way to work — now there’s a fine topic.

    You know, Emily, It’s quite true that having strangers in your car is a little weird. I find myself driving the way I would if I was taking a driving test. A little slower, using all the blinkers and keeping a judicious amount of distance between myself and other cars. Maybe that’s why you don’t ever hear about accidents in casual carpool commutes. We’re all on our toes with strangers.

  11. That was fun to read Bloglily. I love the Casual Carpool concept. I wonder if other cities have this. Don’t you think it is so…so…um…San Francisco? It is wonderful that you encountered a serious reader this way. Almost anyone who suggests Joyce ought to be taken seriously – I find the man impossible to read.

    I had a big laugh at the part about litlove chewing up most of Western Lit in the time it takes us to write 2 posts. I find it helpful to remember Mandarine’s speculation that litlove is actually more than one person. How else can you explain the amazing output ?! I have an alternate explanation: Litlove has stolen the Time Turner from Hermione Granger. Thus she can blog and read and work at the same time ;).

  12. How nice it is to run into a fellow reader–one of my best friends now is someone who was seated next to me at a boring institutional dinner. Luckily, we discovered that we both loved to read, and spent the rest of the evening comparing notes and making recommendations.

  13. Darling BL – the only reason I can do what I do is that it’s the day job, and I spent years of my life reading lit so I can now spit it out in post-sized chunks! I’m not as hot as you are at turning ordinary daily events into brilliant narrative! I agree with your White Rabbit on the Ellman biography (Joyce’s life was really intriguing), and I’ll bet your passengers were thrilled to have a little time to get to know you.

  14. Oh my – my eye has just been caught by Polaris’s comment! I’m absolutely cracking up with laughter here! Boy do I wish I had that time turner. My son is forever telling me I spend way too much time blogging, so I think that’s your real answer….

  15. My dear Polaris, A bay area thing indeed. As for the Time Turner, I would like one of those myself. As it is now, I feel like I’m being skewered on the hands of the clock, and I do not like that one little bit.

    Lucky you Lucette! I’ve never made a best friend at a dinner like that. One can hope though, one can hope.

    Hello dear litlove (happy birthday bythe way!) That is some day job you have! I love your post-sized hunks of literature and am so grateful to you for providing them. And yes, I’m looking forward to the Ellman. And my family is always going on about the blogging too. It’s as though I was in the bathroom doing some kind of illegal drug!

  16. Hello Bloglily. I can see why you’d want to take seriously the recommendations of any reader who told you a book would “enlarge your reading.” Do I notice in your sidebar this is your first anniversary month? Congratulations on creating such a vibrant community in just a year.

  17. Hello David, I was just writing a little blog factoid/year anniversary kind of post, but then I decided I’d better finish that work project and get to bed. You’re so sweet to be such an observant man. That’s why it feels like such a lovely place around here. xo

  18. Such a great story. Thanks for sharing.

    I popped in on your site and Rich’s site (on your recommendation) and found great entries on both. Good fun. Thanks for the nudge.

    — Jerry

  19. What a wonderful story. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a blog post so much. Thank you. 🙂

    JM @ Fiction Scribe aka Spunk and thenewaustralian

  20. Wonderful tale, BL. When I worked in SF I used to pick up casual carpoolers every morning. Another bonus, besides the coveted carpool lane, is getting a few priceless characters a week to populate your stories. (And perhaps you end up in their stories, who knows?)

  21. Pingback: May I Introduce You To Lily? at

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