Let’s drive: The teenage escape

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Joelle Souma '21

Mask up! Isabella Durand ’21 (left) and Joelle Souma ’21 (right) headed to the polls in Souma’s car back in November. While it was fun to exercise their rights, they had even more fun driving there.

You turn 16, take your driver’s license test once or twice, reroute your maps app to avoid freeways and find yourself — finally — behind the wheel on your own. Once you prove yourself to be a relatively safe driver, your parents reluctantly allow you to drive your friends around, which radically changes your social life. Before you know it, your whole friend group is smooshed together in a car anytime you go out, and the one friend with the best car becomes the forever driver. 

While driving has been a teen pastime since drive-in movies and malts, it has become even more prevalent during Covid (with masks on and windows down, of course). Isolated teenagers are antsy to see their friends and are looking for a change of scenery. Driving around is the cure to Covid boredom, and it is one of the safest ways teens can get together.  

In her black SUV, Joelle Souma ’21 is a fixture of the streets of LA. She is always quick to offer friends, acquaintances and even strangers a ride. Anytime her friend group is organizing a beach day or a drive up and down the 134, the responsibility to drive falls on her. Her friends describe her as a “safe Speed Racer.” While Joelle and her friends have been jaunting around LA, blasting mid-2000s Justin Timberlake ever since she turned 16, her driving adventures increased when Covid came along. 

“When Covid first hit and was really bad, my friends and I couldn’t go out so we started driving around a lot,” Souma said. 

Souma and her friends’ plans are always last-minute, and whether they are staying local and eating Taco Bell in a parking lot or spending the day at USC, Isabella Durand ’21, one of Souma’s closest friends, expects a spontaneous “pick you up?” text at least once a weekend. 

“The most advanced plan we have ever made is when we drove to Palm Desert,” Durand said. 

“That was only a day in advance,” Souma said. 

Neither Durand nor Eunice Kang ’21 — her other frequent driving companion — have their licenses, so Souma is always the driver and Durand and Kang are always arguing over shotgun.  

“Isa is usually on aux [meaning, she’s the DJ] because she has good music taste,” Souma said. “It’s a lot of old Taylor Swift, No Doubt, some punk, some ’90s early 2000s nostalgic music… Eunice likes her rap though.”

“We match the music to the location,” Durand said.

Like many Tologs, Souma struggled with the transition to online school and the feelings of isolation that came with it. Driving allowed her to escape with her friends and retain some normalcy in her life. 

“Covid is hard for me. It isn’t easy spending senior year online, so me and my friends just drive and talk,” Souma said 

For Souma and her friends, part of the fun in driving around aimlessly is the spontaneity of it during a time when everything is so monotonous. 

“It’s fun to have no destination and do whatever we want,” Souma said. 

When the days begin to merge together, Kang knows she can rely on Souma’s spur-of-the-moment “I’ll pick you up” texts. 

“When I am having a really bad mental health day or feel super stuck in my room, the one thing that makes my week better is driving around with Joelle,” Kang said. 

The feeling is mutual for Souma. 

“If I have had a terrible week, I am going to pick up Eunice to get ice cream,” Souma said. 

While nothing can replace witty hallway exchanges and lunches eaten in a circle on the floor, for Souma and Kang, sitting in the Baskin Robbins parking lot, doing nothing but munching on their cookies and cream scoops energizes them. 

“Joelle is willing to drive around at night when the air is crisp. It makes me feel refreshed and reminds me not to worry about such small things because I will always have friends surrounding me,” Kang said. 

Throughout this crazy pandemic year, driving has been the key that has kept Souma and her friends close. 

“Driving has allowed us not only to be safer when we hang out but also to forget about everything that is going on,” Souma said.