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Reflections on having a car at Stanford

How having a car helps me process life on campus. (Photo: Pexels)

I look up. The vast, warm sky extends 270 degrees, coloring my peripherals. We’re definitely at the center of it, she says. She knows full well that each person, family and overly affectionate couple on this beach feel they are at the center of it, too. I have never seen this kind of red in a sunset before. This is the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

This past January, I wrote an article about how I thought moving from Irvine to Stanford would be the end of living in a so-called bubble, but wound up appalled at how little I left campus. I insisted that I would practice time management and get a Zipcar account — which I did, and was grateful when the promo codes came out this past week -— but ultimately did not feel as if I’d solved my issue in the slightest. 

This year, I am not forced to abide by the rule prohibiting freshmen from having cars on campus. Honestly, two weeks with a car has made the start of my sophomore fall quarter marginally more enjoyable than last year’s. In my utmost sincerity, the serotonin is really figuring out its shit. If I’m craving boba at 11 p.m., I have the full and complete agency to go get it. And on Sunday, if I feel that I’d like to journal in front of the sunset at the beach, I can. Clearly, driving is a privilege, and I’m endlessly grateful and indebted to my grandmother for raising Betty to be the best 2008 Toyota Avalon out there. But the privilege of getting a family car for your personal use is an entirely separate article. 

As my mom drove out of Escondido turnaround on September 23, 2018, I felt the spirit of adventure drained from my fingertips. When I’d endured panic attacks throughout high school, I often soothed myself with a drive down PCH and some Fleetwood Mac. Where would I escape to if not the edge of Laguna? Where would I sit and let my mascara drip from my eyelashes without worrying about cleaning underneath my eyes?

My car was a vehicle in more than one sense of the word: a vehicle for disappearance, for uninterrupted thought, for my desperation to stay moving. When I needed time and space to process freshman year, I’d wander so far that my toes would freeze into numbness, and I’d be too tired to walk all the way back home, sometimes even forgetting which way I’d taken to get there. Getting lost didn’t exactly solve the issue of feeling stuck. 

On Sunday, I wrote in my pocket-size journal about how lucky I counted myself to be sitting in the sand. I was finally granted the time to process what it meant to be entering my last teenage year. And most importantly, I had the person in the passenger seat. Rather than solely an escape for my introverted self, I’ve found myself emotionally and mentally well enough to crave some company, even in those moments of needing to move — and to be — outside of the bubble. 

More than ever before, I have noticed the way certain portions of songs lingered due to the car’s imperfect sound system. I noticed how I place my left leg when I’m tired of braking. I noticed how the color of my keys complimented the bronzes in the sand. As painfully trite as it all sounds, driving my car feels like accessing a completely renewed consciousness. I feel almost as though I’ve transported the portions of home I’ve missed 402.6 miles upward, and somehow salvaged the same atmosphere. My car is a little piece of midnight at the top of the hill, playing I-Spy and picking the Orange Balloon every time. And so much more. 

And to Kathy C. only, my first commenter and one of two to this day, I figured it out.

Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Malia Mendez

Malia Mendez

Welcome to my corner, friends! I'm big on emotional intelligence, empathy, and expanding the definitions of art and creativity. I love hearing new voices and stories so please talk to me about whatever's skipping around in your head anytime.