As I sat against the wall wondering why I wore a dress, wondering how I ended up so close to the random kid who sits two seats behind me, thinking that we might as well say our vows now and wondering about each of my life’s decisions, I prayed that I would never have to relive this situation.
Then I realized I do it every day. Yes, that’s right: eating lunch in a car is as uncomfortable, if not more, than the three hours I sat on the floor of room 179 during the bomb threat last semester.
I wish I was the only one this lifestyle afflicts, but I am not. In reality, according to a recent Bark survey, 24 percent of Redwood students self-reported that they eat lunch in a car every school day. For juniors and seniors, that number rises to 37 percent of students. Even 47 percent of sophomores self-reported eating lunch in a car one to two times per week.
However, 78 percent of freshmen never eat lunch inside the oven from Hansel and Gretel (also known as my car that doesn’t have the battery life to run idle for thirty minutes). This is likely due to the fact that sophomore year is generally when students get a driver’s license and start setting an alarm for the crack of dawn, which has become a necessity if you park in the back lot like me.
I decided to investigate. After thoroughly interrogating a reliable Redwood alumnus, my dad, I came to the conclusion that there was, in fact, a time when high school kids valued fresh air. Somehow, between his era and ours, it became normalized to spend lunch, the only portion of the day many upperclassmen have to be outside, stuffed into a car. Eating lunch in a private space like a car may be the norm, but in a place as beautiful as Marin, students should use lunch to enjoy being outside. Especially considering many seniors are leaving this beauty in only a few months, now more than ever is a great time for them to make the most of high school before it is gone.
From a logistical point, there are downsides to eating in a car. The most obvious one being size limitations. At most, a car can comfortably fit about five people. Even with five people, there’s barely any space to stretch out your legs or reach into your bag. Take this example a few weeks ago, I put my stuff outside of a friend’s car against her back wheel to conserve space, and when she backed out, you guessed it, all of my things were run over.
If the prospect of getting all of your things crushed isn’t enough (which it really should be), there are the constant parking lot distractions. Nothing enhances my sandwich like a never-ending honking war. In one of Redwood’s worst pastimes, a tragically drawn-out contest to find the alpha male of the back lot has taken off years from my life, and years off my ears.
Graduating from the CEA and being able to eat in a car is a symbol of status. I admit, once I got my license sophomore year, I begged my sister to let me eat in her car. And eating outside can have its downsides too. For starters, there’s a lot of people around, especially underclassmen and adults with menacing walkie-talkies. Redwood doesn’t have ample spaces to eat, especially with the stigma accompanying the amphitheater, but there’s enough. You can opt for the shaded Friendship Garden, the Art Building or the tables added this year lining the front lot and the quad. Eating outside shouldn’t be an underclassman phenomenon.
Not only does eating in cars present some seriously unpleasant conditions for your 35 minutes of freedom, but it creates a divisive environment. High school should be about unity, and separating ourselves with literal metal barriers in times meant for social interaction limits this. Additionally, eating lunch in cars creates socioeconomic barriers at Redwood. Though we often forget it, having a car is a huge privilege and not everyone has the resources or the opportunity to get a driver’s license and have access to a vehicle. By centering our lunches for most upperclassmen around the parking lots, we are creating an alienating lunch environment.
There are times, of course, when this division makes sense. For example, if students actually go off campus to get lunch, it’s logical to spend the remaining 10 to 15 minutes of lunch in the parking lot. Additionally, if your yerba mate high has worn off and you’re looking for a private place to catch up on sleep or do homework, a car can provide the perfect space. But eating in a car just because that is the norm is a tragedy.
According to The Telegraph, getting sufficient sunlight actually helps teenagers regulate their internal clocks and their sleep cycle. So, not only does eating outside create unity, it also presents health benefits.
As I was walking to class, I saw students on the South Lawn playing croquet and picnicking. Leadership is even working on a new initiative—Lawn Chair Fridays—to encourage students to get outside more. On Club Days and lunches where the music department performs, the South Lawn and adjacent tables are littered with students. Why can’t this be the precedent?
Yes, I know, you’ve probably seen me eating in cars in the back lot during lunch, but it’s all about baby steps. In my own research to write this piece, I conducted a social experiment. It was a modest step, but I popped the trunk of my Volvo XC90 and ate facing the parking lot. Though I got a decent amount of strange looks, my overall conclusion verified my suspicion: nobody cares about me (in a reassuring way). So why not spend the minimal time I have outside of a classroom to catch some rays?
I wish I could make definite change, but all I can do is urge us as students to get out of our cars. It’s up to you—do you want to explain to your mom why there’s a salad dressing stain in the Q5, or do you want to enjoy a wholesome beautiful day?