The pleasure of a "car break": sitting alone in your car on some street or lot, enjoying private time

“Car breaks”: Sorry I couldn’t t come up with a better term to describe one of the favorite ways my co-workers and I like to spend our lunch hours. Basically, as we are all starting to admit to one another, we like to take our home-prepared lunch, or one we take-out from a restaurant or deli. Then we drive to a spot somewhere in Walnut Creek–a street, a parking lot–and sit alone in our cars, eat, listen to the radio, or read.

It’s not as sad and pathetic as it sounds. Maybe you, too, like to take car breaks

True confession about a recent car break: Just yesterday, I was having the hardest time keeping my eyes open as I sat at my computer and tried to work. Not enough sleep the night before, or the room was unusually warm. Finally, I said, “I’m getting out of here.” I took some work with me—as well as the new Vanity Fair. I drove about a half mile from my office, and pulled into the very large and mostly empty lot of a downtown Walnut Creek Episcopal church. I found a remote location, far from the street, near a fence and in the shade of trees. I rolled down my window a little to let in some fresh air. And, there I sat and read my work. Pretty soon, though, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I tipped my head back against the neck rest and fell into a quick cat nap. 
I did notice, before dozing off, that another gentleman was sitting in a white car about 10 spaces away. He was reading some papers. He seemed to have the same “car break” idea. But he didn’t stay long after I arrived. Perhaps he felt embarassed to be seen by someone else sitting alone in his car. 
I remember at a former job, a pregnant co-worker, who was having a really tough time with first-trimester morning sickness, would retreat to her car in the office parking lot several times during the day. She’d roll down her window, let in the air and hope the nausea would pass. Sometimes, she, too would fall asleep.  

Locally, I’ve taken car breaks in the parking lots of Civic Park and Walden Park. I’ve parked in neighborhoods, but neighborhood car breaks can be tricky. If you choose a location with any kind of neighborhood watch program, someone at home that day might see you just sitting there in your car, think it’s suspicious and call the police.
I imagine it’s probably harder for men to take car breaks. People seeing a man sitting alone in a car might assume he’s up to no good. He’s casing out a house for a burglary or waiting for a secret rendezvous with his drug dealer or someone not his girlfriend or wife. Maybe that’s why the man in the white car, when I spotted him, left rather quickly. He worried that I would think he’s up to no good.
Some of my best car break experiences took place when I was in graduate school at Mills College. I’d have several hours between classes, so I’d drive up into some neighborhood in Piedmont or the Oakland hills, and park my car along a gleafy street, lined with big old trees and graceful old houses. I’d sit alone in the driver’s seat and read a literature text for class or write in my notebook—ideas for a paper I needed to finish or for the great novel I still need to finish. Car breaks in the Oakland hills were especially lovely in the fall when the leaves on those big old trees were turning. Car breaks when it was raining outside could also be especially wonderful.
I know some of you would ask, “Why, if given a chance to get out the cubicle land of my office, would I want to sequester myself in the confines of my car? If it’s a lovely, sunny day, why don’t I get out to one of Walnut Creek’s lovely parks and get some fresh air? Why don’t I sit on the grass, in the shade of a tree?”
Some explanation for my love of car breaks might lie in the whole cultural history of Americans’ love affair with their cars. There might be some expanation in my inherently anti-social nature.
All I can say is that my car—10 years old and kind of beat up—provides me with something of what Virginia Woolf described in her essay about how we all, women especially, need a “room of one’s own.”
My car–my mobile office, my mobile retreat–offers me privacy—to read , listen to the music I want to listen to, to generally be alone with my own thoughts. These days, I can’t enjoy that kind of privacy at work, or in the office lunch room. I can’t enjoy that at a restaurant, or in a public park. I can’t even enjoy it at home very often, small as it is and crowded with the activities of my family. I don’t have a “room of one’s own” at home. So, I guess have to settle for a “car of one’s own.”
Do you car break? Why do you do it? And, where do you do it? My co-workers and I are looking for new spots for their lunch time getaways.

16 thoughts on “The pleasure of a "car break": sitting alone in your car on some street or lot, enjoying private time

  1. I used to take car lunch breaks when I was working on a project in San Ramon. I didn't really know any of the other people working there, at least not well enough to go to lunch with. So, every now and then, I'd get takeout from a local place and sit in my car, listening to the radio. It was really quite relaxing. During that time I noticed many others taking car breaks as well, so I don't think it is uncommon at all.


  2. Hmm, I've never done the car break, but I'm in the city. I usually walk over to Walgreen's and buy something if I'm bored.


  3. I think it is more common than we might think. I mean, we tend to spend alot of time in our vehicles anyway. It's OUR space – familiar, outfitted for comfort and convenience… Better yet, it's mobile!

    Ya can't do that with a living room! Well, unless you have an RV like what the folks on Claycord are griping about. There are societal (legal) limits which I can understand.

    Look for me… I'll be the one in
    in the blue convertible. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…


  4. 2:34 pm

    I too drive a blue convertible and love to park it in a quite place on lovely sunny days like this. What a wonderfully relaxing way to get away from it all in the middle of town.

    I do take precautions of putting my purse in the trunk and keeping all the side windows up and doors locked as you never know who is lurking out there these days.


  5. I take car breaks as well. Usually I head on over to Walden Park or go downtown and park on top of parking garage that's next to CA Pizza Kitchen….such a beautiful view of Mt Diablo! It was especially nice when there was snow on top of Mt Diablo 🙂


  6. My son was in his friend's car in Oakland waiting for his friend to return from an errand. The friend had out of habit clicked and locked the car as he left.It was taking longer and my son decided to get out of the car. The car alarm went off. My son did not have the key and could not get out of the car. The police came thinking that a robbery was in progress. My son had to try to explain to the police through the glass and over the sound of the alarm that it was friend's car and he was locked in.


  7. I used to take my quiet one-hour car lunch (40 minutes after discounting the 20 minute round trip drive from Mt. Diablo Blvd, WC) at the cemetery located at the top of Grayson (past Taylor) in Pleasant Hill. That place is soooo peaceful and has great views!


  8. SM,

    This was a topic evoking creativity. Please do more of these.

    I really enjoyed the comments from the car breakers. I think they line up pretty well with people that go to parks or public plazas on their lunch breaks.


  9. Dear Car Breakers,

    Oh my goodness! Is that the term now? Thanks very much for your comments, and Daffodil Hugger, I'm happy to do more of these kinds of posts. They are pretty fun and rewarding, especially to learn that I'm not alone. And what is it about our cars, or about needing to be alone?

    Or whatever?

    Now, it's time for a late-night peanut M&M break.


  10. Wow I would like to borrow your term “car break”, I also love spending my times alone in my car listening to music. Sometimes me and my wife will bring a wine with us and go on “car dates”.


  11. I'm not very close with my family, and I've been doing this for years now. In fact, this is probably how ill be spending most of the day tomorrow. Just me, my car, and music in a wal mart parking lot for several hours


  12. I love car breaks and do them regularly. They combine the meditative state of staring out a window and any scenery you desire. I find I can be quite productive there if need be–such as making phone calls are better staring out the window than an office wall. And it's quiet. Just yesterday I went to about 5 locations–just random parking lots and lakeside spots– it was grey and rainy, but wonderful for the time needed to combine pondering and working and fulfillment.


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