It’s a busy street in SOMA. So busy that when Tu—an Asian-American girl with shortly trimmed spiky hair, glasses, and a bouncy gait—lands buoyantly in the backseat of my car, a nearby vehicle is already honking at us to move.
Tu holds in her hands a salmon-colored paper box of cupcakes. Once we escape the honking masses, she explains that they are for her parents, who are coming to visit later that day from Vietnam.
“They love American dessert,” Tu explains. Her sister, who will be flying in from Tucson, will also partake in the dessert feast.
After briefly chatting about Tu’s plans to take her parents to Tahoe, conversation shifts to the corgi stuffed animal perched on my seat divider. I’d placed him there after attending Corgi Con earlier that day, partially with the hope of inviting more tips.
“I love corgis,” she gushes. “I love how no matter how old they get, they don’t grow taller…they just get longer. I love how they look like loaves of bread from behind. And I love how you have that one up there as your driving buddy.”
I tell her that he helps to pacify against road rage.
“He helps you deal with road rage?” she clarifies.
“Well that too,” I say. “But mainly he helps when I’m about to be on the receiving end of it. When I can tell a driver is on the verge of honking or swearing, I’ll nudge him in their direction hoping to calm them. Sometimes it does. Other times they just get confused.”
After I pull up to her destination, Tu holds the cupcake box in one hand. The other hand gives the corgi a little swat on the butt. She then gets out.
# Road Thoughts: Sinister high beams
It’s late at night, and the car behind me is flashing his high beams as we wind through dimly lit serpentine roads.
I dislike honking, and you’ll see in past entries my thoughts on how overused I feel the honk is. The flashing of high beams, though, is also unpleasant to me, albeit in a different way. Something about it feels more passive-aggressive, even sinister (in its own quietly threatening way).
It reminds me of when someone’s mad at you and instead of telling you what’s wrong, they just give you repeated dirty looks. Even though honking grates on my nerves, I can at least respect the directness of its “hurry up” command.
Despite the sinister beaming, I continue at my pace to prevent either of us from crashing on these dark scary roads.
Our perceptions and assumptions influence the way we interpret communication.
A passenger who feels more emotionally connected to you will be more likely to take your side when a driver cuts you off, fails to signal, or starts to change lanes only to changes its mind.
The way your car smells, or how it looks, or how the passenger is feeling, can also influence the amount of empathy they have for you.
Any amount of stress or resentment— misplaced or not— weakens connection.
Example: Let’s say I’m driving someone and try to change into the next lane. No one is letting me, though. So eventually I speed up and change into it. The driver behind me honks. I honk back.
Someone I’d been getting along with— or who had been in a good mood, unrelated to our interaction— might have interpreted my response in the following way: “Eleni stood her ground. This is a positive thing—now we won’t have to do a U-turn because her assertiveness prevented us from missing our turn, and now we’ll get to our destination on time.”
Someone who’d been in a bad mood, or with whom I didn’t forge a personal connection, or who didn’t like the smell left behind by the last passengers (who brought seafood stew in with them), might interpret the situation much differently.
Perhaps she’d view my behavior not as assertive, but aggressive— interpreting the quick, seemingly abrupt and reckless lane change as an insensitive “cutting off” of the driver next to me.
It’s all so relative.
“Dude, I don’t want to get too philosophical right now or anything but…that shit’s real. Takes you back to who you really are. Like, the ‘you’ you were before you had to start covering it up with all this bullshit we’re fed just to survive.”
-Passenger talking about sunsets on his farm in Indiana
# Lyft Dream: Siri Takes Over the World
I’m driving down a country road, dutifully allowing Siri’s directions to guide me, when all of a sudden, in a cheerful tone, she nonchalantly provides me with the following instruction:
“Turn left, then drive off the cliff.”
In shock, I respond by asking Siri what’s happened to her. Why has she turned on me like this?
Hoping it’s just a system glitch, I restart my phone. Once it’s back on, Siri is no longer telling me to drive off a cliff, but she does suggest that I “continue straight into the brick wall.”
“What. Is. Happening,” I ask in horrified incredulity.
In waking life, sometimes it does feel like my GPS is trying to kill me.
“Make a U-turn” she’ll say as I’m queuing up to cross the Bay Bridge.
“You have arrived at your destination” she’ll announce in the middle of the overpass connecting University Avenue with the Berkeley Marina.
This dream behavior feels different though. Less passive-aggressive. Here Siri is making no effort to disguise her attempts to off me.
She answers my “what is happening” question by transporting me into her mind. Inside of it I behold her utopic vision for an idealized planet upon which no humans remain. Instead, anthropomorphized iPhones congregate in coffee shops. They walk their robot dogs down the streets. They drive themselves to work with nifty wheels that pop out on command from their sleek glossy backs.
Beeping sounds and flat, uniform cadences are the only noises one can hear in this eerily quiet, tonally homogenous Siri-run universe.
The ringing of my alarm clock dissolves it, bringing me back to a world run (for better or for worse) by humans.
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