In College Without a Car
“Um, can you move your stuff? It’s blocking the path to the bathroom.”
I was huddled on the floor of a random Mexican restaurant in a slightly scary part of Los Angeles. My iPhone—which had 1 percent battery left—was hooked into the only outlet I could find, smack-dab next to the restrooms. My two duffle-bags were stacked precariously next to me. And as the disgruntled employee was pointing out, I was seriously harming anyone’s chances of peeing.
This was not what I’d envisioned for my first night of Thanksgiving break last year.
Two weeks earlier:
I didn’t bring a car to college, so I assumed every time I needed to get to or from San Luis Obispo my parents would give me a ride. My mom quickly set the record straight.
“Honey, I love you, but I’m not driving eight hours in one day every time you go on vacation. Don’t you have any friends who live near us?”
Unfortunately, I had picked my college group based on personality, not hometown proximity. They all lived in Northern California, which would be awesome when I wanted to visit San Francisco—but not so awesome right now, when I couldn’t hitch a ride.
Then, one of my friends suggested I check out Cal Poly’s rideshare page on Facebook.
“It’s really easy,” she explained. “People post where they’re headed and how many seats they have. Then you message someone who’s driving past or near your town.”
I immediately pulled up the page. No one was going through Riverside County, but one guy was driving to Orange County and said he could drop me off somewhere in L.A. My dad confirmed he’d pick me up. We decided we’d meet at a Cheesecake Factory right off the freeway.
When the driver, Evan, pulled up in front of my apartment, there were already people in every single passenger seat.
“Uh…” I said, unsure if Evan thought seatbelts weren’t necessities but luxuries, like 800-thread-count sheets or cashmere socks.
“Oh, it’s totally fine, we’ll just squeeze!” he said cheerily.
I wanted to point out he wasn’t squeezing with anyone in the spacious driver’s seat. But if I didn’t go with Evan, I’d be eating turkey in my dorm room. I got in the car. If I kept my entire body very rigid and stuck myself as close to the door as possible, I could be described as sitting “next to” rather than “on top of” the boy next to me. The instance I relaxed, however, my left thigh oozed onto him. I tried to think of restrictive things to motivate me.
Corsets, diets, Lululemon yoga pants, I chanted under my breath. Corsets, diets, Lululemon yoga pants.
We’d only been on the freeway for a couple of minutes before the girl sitting next to the boy sitting next to the boy sitting next to me stuck her finger through the gap in the head-rest and poked Evan’s neck.
“Yeah?” He asked, simultaneously jerking his neck forward to escape her probe.
She explained she had “extremely important plans” that night and needed to get home by 6 p.m. We all looked at the clock. It was two in the afternoon. Without traffic, the drive takes four hours. When Evan explained she would probably be late, she erupted.
“You need to be a more aggressive driver!” she yelled. “See all these cars? You could be passing them! You’re a pussy!”
For the next 80 miles, we sat in a silence that was only punctuated by the disdainful noises the girl would make every time a car sped past us.
“Maybe we could put some music on?” the guy sitting next to me finally said. Unfortunately for me, it was discovered a large contingent of the car had a fondness for the Frozen soundtrack. As I listened to Olaf sing about being a snowman and tried not to breathe too deeply, I began to wonder if spending Thanksgiving by myself in SLO would truly have been so bad after all.
Things only got worse.
Evan had asked me to give him directions to the Cheesecake Factory where I was meeting my dad, so when we started getting close, I pulled up my iPhone map.
“Okay, get off here,” I said.
But the exit was closed for construction, so Evan got off at the next exit instead. My iPhone was confused—it instructed us to turn around and return to the freeway so we could get off at the right exit. For some reason, it wouldn’t calculate an alternate route. The girl, now pissed beyond belief at the time we were wasting muddling around LA, demanded the address so she could get directions on her phone. It gave us the same instructions. It was like we had stumbled upon an iPhone Bermuda Triangle.
One of the guys decided to guide us himself by looking at the map. To say this didn’t go well is an understatement—we ended up in the Bel Air hills, roaming through residential neighborhoods. There wasn’t a hot dog stand or food truck in sight, let alone a Cheesecake Factory.
As 20 minutes became 40, then an hour, the mood in the car became increasingly hostile. Evan and the other boys had been nice-ish about the situation at first, but now they and the girl were making increasingly conspicuous noises about dropping me off at somewhere other than the Cheesecake Factory. My dad wasn’t answering my calls, so I couldn’t ask him to pick a different restaurant. Oh, and my iPhone was about to die.
Then we drove past a church.
“Stop the car!” the girl ordered. Was she going to pray for directions?
No: she wanted to leave me there.
“It’s safe,” she said. “No one will hurt her on holy grounds. We’ve been driving around for an hour and a half, and I seriously need to get home.”
Not only was I unconvinced by her holy grounds argument—had she heard about Catholic priests?—but there was no way in hell my dad was tracking me down at a random church in greater L.A. Especially because my phone had just shut off. And the church was entirely dark, so there wasn’t even a friendly youth group or knitting circle I could ask for shelter.
“Please, you cannot leave me here,” I said, tears forming in my eyes. “I’ll sue! I’ll give you bad ratings on the ride share page!”
“We’re not going to leave you here,” Evan reassured me. Thank God I had one ally left.
“We’re going to leave you at the first restaurant we find.” Or not.
That’s how I ended up at the Mexican place. The girl behind the cash register had said I could only sit on the floor and charge my phone if I ordered something—fair enough, since my luggage pile did make me look a bit homeless.
That’s where my dad finally found me, half-asleep on the ground, slumped over one of my duffels, a plate of half-eaten tacos next to me.
“Aja, wake up,” he said.
I opened my eyes and burst into tears.
“PRAISE THE LORD!” I wailed.
The next time I had a break from school, I took the train.
• Price of ride with Evan: $20 (what a rip-off)
• Price of train ticket: $63
• Knowing I won’t be abandoned by the side of the road: Priceless
This column is part of a multi-part series.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who loves writing… and dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.
Photo: Clotee Allochuku