Usually, it’s not me driving.
Actually, that’s precisely why I tell my husband he has to drive when traveling any distance. I’ve tried before to gaze into people’s windows while operating a motor vehicle, but it’s challenging to do two things at once.
Like steering and snooping.
I end up veering into your lane, and when you honk at me, I become agitated because you are being such an aggressive asshole. Then it just feels weird when I continue to look (and swerve) in your general direction.
My kids ask me from their perches in the backseat why I stare into cars. The answer is easy: to catch a glimpse into another person’s life.
I see you, man with the oversized beard and horn-rimmed glasses. You are pretending not to see me watching you. You are an astute driver and must keep focused on the job at hand. Good for you. Already, I can tell so much about you. Things like: you’re probably never late in doing your taxes and you likely own several pricey beard trimming kits.
There you are, middle-aged lady with four children screaming in the back of your minivan. Your eye is slightly twitching and a single tear rolls down your cheek as you tell the little brats to shut up. I so badly wish that I could transport myself into your car and tell those damn kids to smarten up and listen to their mother, because I can tell you are overworked, underrested, and deserve a break.
A first-time driver is always notable, as they will usually be doing either 30 under or over the speed limit as a white-knuckled instructor clutches the holy shit handle and prays that today won’t be their last. I always give these folks a heartening wave and try to do a little chatting between our glass windows. New drivers need more encouragement, you know.
Often a dog will be licking a window and stop when making eye contact with me. Her tail will begin to wag, and I will discreetly pull a treat out of the vest pocket (where I always keep my spare dog treats) and wave it around so she can see it. I try to motion to the driver to roll down their window so I can throw the treat in the car, but that very rarely pans out.
I see impeccably clean cars driven by business professionals and the elderly. I see vehicles cram-packed with knick knacks and bric-a-brac, piled high and obstructing the view of the rear window. Sometimes small children smile at me because they too like to look into passerby’s cars. Often teenagers give me the finger, and I give them the finger back because I am not below that sort of thing.
The best, however, is when I come across an entire car full of looky-loos just like me.
As my husband speeds up to pass them on the right, I will ready myself to get a good view. Then, as if a tiny miracle has occurred, the driver makes eye contact if only for a moment and smiles. Then the passenger will look over. Then the children in the back and the dog too!
Of course, it’s a little awkward at first, because who the hell wants a stranger staring into their car? But after a few seconds, it turns into something natural, and we all adjust, falling into a serene moment in time where we’re just old friends, looking into each other’s cars—and souls—thinking about all the imaginary times we’ve shared together.