Musings + Essays

In Transit.

By: Jen Shoop

I spent countless hours on Friday and Saturday evenings between the years of 2000 and 2002 driving to Virginia. Three of my closest high school girlfriends lived in Alexandria, Falls Church, and Vienna, respectively, and, much to my parents continued befuddlement, I giddily offered to drive to them on any occasion that arose, even if that occasion meant I’d navigate a portion of a Friday afternoon rush hour waiting in a long queue of cars to cross Key Bridge. But I was sixteen, or seventeen, and I had nothing but time, a full-tank of gas, burned CDs that I couldn’t wait to blast at a volume so loud it mottled the sound quality–and an insatiable hunger for the liberation of driving by myself.

It is impossible to understate or fully capture the soul-filling sensation of freedom that a driver’s license imparts on a teen desperate for life to start. If my mother so much as hinted that we were running low on butter, I’d be sprinting out the door with keys in hand while the words were still lingering in the air.

“I’m on it!”

Printer paper running low? I’d be off to the Office Depot on Connecticut Avenue before thinking twice. Elizabeth needed to be picked up from ballet school? Done. (No worries that I’d just gotten back from two separate excursions for butter and then printer paper.) Sometimes, I’d drive my baby sister Eleanor out for fries at the one drive-thru in all of NW D.C., the Burger King close to the Van Ness metro stop, or offer to fill the tank of my mother’s car at the station–just to give myself an excuse to get out of the house and drive somewhere.

And so, the hour-long trek out to Vienna never registered as an inconvenience. It was a gift. To be alone, to play my own music, to brood, to pretend that fellow drivers were angling their heads in curiosity as I’d glide past them: a fresh-faced girl with a ribbon in her high ponytail blasting David Gray or John Mayer or — when feeling edgy — DMX or B.I.G. I would occasionally extend my trip by driving through Georgetown, though I could have easily avoided its congestion by taking Rock Creek Parkway straight to 66, just so that I could drive down 37th, in front of the gates of Georgetown University, in the hope that some of the cute polo-wearing Georgetown boys would notice me. Looking back, I can affirmatively say that no one ever turned in admiration to catch my small face smugly peering over the steering wheel as I blared Nelly’s “E.I.” from the tinny speakers of the old hand-me-down forest green Camry I shared with my older brother:

I’m a sucker for corn rows and manicured toes (hey)
Fendi capri pants and Parasuco’s (alright)
The rise of Diddy and City, with one or two throws

But such is the solipsistic self-involvement of a teen.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. Magpie and I have been revisiting some of our favorite teen flicks: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Clueless, Varsity Blues, 10 Things I Hate About You. Mr. Magpie at one point asked: “Should I be concerned about our mental state that we’re so drawn to these high school movies right now?” We laughed about that, but —

It has been overwhelming to think about adult problems these days. The concerns in these movies feel pleasantly narrow and manageable by contrast. And the scale of their concerns blurs with nostalgia for the 90s and early 00s, and I find myself thinking back to a junior-in-high-school Jen whose chief worries were maintaining a 4.3 GPA, finding a date to Snowball (winter formal), and making my way over to my friend E.’s house in Vienna on a Friday night to watch chick flicks and eat gummy bears and dissect the latest tenuous (possibly nonexistent) encounter with whatever boy we were swooning over: “I think he saw me drive past Gonzaga the other day.” (Etc.)

I think, in short, that I have found comfort revisiting the upward swing of adolescence, the indefatigable energy and optimism of being a sixteen-year-old with her driver’s license in hand. These recovered sensations billow powerfully against the mire and morbidity of 2020. They remind me what it feels like to be in transit, heart racing and a little reckless, with nothing but upside.

Post Scripts.

+More memories from teendom.

+And musings on that time one of my high-school classmates informed me that reading InStyle was embarrassingly low-brow.

+More thoughts on living through COVID19 here and here.

+On a far more frivolous note: I mentioned this in passing last week, but speaking of the 90s: the strappy sandal is back. My top picks:







+Have you, like me, ogled at those nearly-$2K Vita Kin embroidered dresses from time to time? H&M has a great dupe for $60.

+This monkey dress! SO FUN.

+Don’t ask me why, but MyTheresa has some great TorySport pieces on sale, including this sold-out-everywhere-else tie dye top, these fire engine red leggings, and this crazy chic tennis skirt! (More athletic wear finds here.)

+This is such a pretty quilt at such a great price.

+You know I love a good striped tee. Have never tried the brand La Ligne (partial to Kule), but have heard good things and this multicolor one is on sale!

+OK, I had to have this. I have a problem when it comes to LWDs.

+A really cute spring sweatshirt.

+Cheery and inexpensive snack/cereal bowls.

+In case you missed it: a really good sale.

+Use this every other day for a great blowout at home. Cannot recommend enough.

+&Other Stories keeps coming with the HITS this season. This dress is so on-trend.

+Another car that meant a lot to me.

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9 thoughts on “In Transit.

  1. Yesssss driving was such a revelation as a teen. Freedom!! I was the first of my friends to get my license and it was like unlocking the next level of the video game that is life. I have been thinking a lot about driving recently, as I do not have a car here in Brooklyn (what an expensive nightmare managing that would be) but as a result, have not been anywhere beyond walking distance of my home in the last two months. I would kill to be able to jump in my own quarantine pod aka car and jet off to the ocean or the woods or literally anywhere.

    1. Oh, me too! My sister (who lives in Brooklyn!) is actually probably going to buy a car this week for those exact reasons. Can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, too…we did have a car when we first moved to NY and realized we barely used it but were paying a second rent to keep it close to us in Manhattan, so we sold it! I’m now wishing we had access to one…even if just to go for evening drives! A change of scenery! Etc!


  2. Love this post. I, too, have been reminiscing about high school lately — maybe it’s something in the air?!

    I smiled while reading this because I ALSO drove a dorky forest green hand-me-down sedan for the first couple of years of having my license … my mom called it “the nun mobile” (haha!)

    Love that & Other Stories dress!


    1. CHEERS to our twin forest green hand-me-downs. Do they even make forest green cars anymore? My brother ended up taking it out to Austin, TX with him when he was in graduate school there and he literally drove it to death and I was surprised that I felt a twinge of sadness upon that news. It was the site of so much soul-searching and friendship-forming as a teen, and the cluster of faded bumper stickers from all of our schools always made me feel a surge of familial pride. Anyway, good memories…


    2. Haha, I don’t think so! I had a forest-green Jeep Cherokee immediately after the forest-green sedan, too … must have been a ’90s thing (even though I drove them from 2001-2006, both cars were mid-90s models!)


  3. I’m driving outta high school straight into the pros.


    [Google says my lyrics are off, but as basketball player, that’s how I always sung it.]

    My two favorite genres of music as a teen were rap and country. (I watched Kanye and Taylor’s famous beef live from my dorm and couldn’t believe it…my two worlds colliding!) I recently made a playlist of all my teenage country jams: Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Sugarland, Miranda Lambert, Sara Evans, Rascal Flatts. I haven’t listened to country in years….yet, here I am, drawn to the nostalgic sounds of my past, longing for a simpler time.

    And, admittedly, “Wide Open Spaces” my Dixie Chicks really delivers right now.

    1. Ha – I like your adaptation 🙂 And YES. The entire “Fly” album (one of my first CDs!) has that wide open, hanging out in the country feel to it and I’ve been listening to it every other day. Happy music from teendom for sure.


    1. Wow — this is great! I am not alone!! I loved this phrase: “The sheltering has probably led to a lot of unstructured mind-wandering.” HOW TRUE. How many mornings, noons, and nights have I spent sitting on the floor of my daughter’s nursery, occasionally intercepting arguments or injuries before they befall my children, but usually sitting there, dangling halfway between playing with Duplos and lost in free-form thought?!

      Also — did not know that most of our memories come from the ages of 10-30! Fascinating. Could it also be because there are such a density of major life milestones during that period? First days at school, graduations, major trips, first boyfriends and breakups, first close groups of friends, first apartment, first job, first paycheck, etc, etc?

      Fascinating! Thank you!

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