Rush Hour

“You’re late,” Mina said blearily as she perched coffee cups on the roof of the car and tossed her bag into the footwell of the passenger seat. “Your mocha is cold.”

It was 5:50 in the morning, and the sky was just starting to turn pink behind the redwoods along the side of the road in Santa Cruz. Pre-commute was almost over; they only had ten minutes to get through the tollgates and onto Highway 17. Tranh was silent and grumpy as Mina climbed into the car beside him. She was right. He was late. It would be hell.

He popped the clutch on the Honda, pulling sharply away from the curb as Mina fastened her seatbelt and arranged her things. Coffee into the cupholders, bag between her feet. There was a big wait at the booths before the onramp, lines of cars and trucks and SUVs muscling in to try and make the 6AM deadline. “Shit. Fuck. Crap.” he muttered.

“You’re in a good mood this morning,” Mina commented.

“I was up late working,” Tranh said. “I overslept. I didn’t get to shower. I came out as soon as I could.”

“You should have called me,” Mina said. “We could have slept in, taken the back roads up to the Valley. Nothing in the rules says we have to do do this every day.”

Tranh snickered, rubbing his eyes. “Yeah, but if we take the back roads we get to work sometime around lunch. My boss would love that. He already thinks I’m a complete degenerate.”

They pulled up to the line for the tollgate, and Tranh merged in front of a red Mercedes which blared at him menacingly. Mina rolled down the window and cursed at it for him, a long string of colorful expletives accompanied by violent gestures. The tinted windows of the Mercedes were coldly silent to her umbrage.

“Do you think we’ll make it?” Mina asked when she was done with her rant.

“I don’t know,” Tranh said mournfully. They might have to take the back roads after all. God, they should have been out earlier. Earlier was better, even if it was harder to get up in the mornings. There was less of a lineup at the tollgate, less traffic on the roads, fewer CHP out patrolling, which meant less work for Mina. It made the trip into the valley more enjoyable all around. Earlier was always a better idea. This trip was going to suck.

“We’ll make it,” Mina said confidently. “Krispy Kreme?” she offered, unwrapping a sticky donut from its wax paper wrapping. There was never any time for breakfast in the morning; they ate on the road.

“Warm?”

“Well, they were warm half an hour ago when I got them,” she admitted, looking dubiously at the package.

“Hmmm, OK.” He accepted a donut, stuffed half of it into his mouth and put the rest down on the dash. He washed it down with a slug of mocha. She had warned him; it was cold. Shit.

They were now only four cars from the front of the line, and five minutes from 6AM. Tranh fished his pass out of the side pocket and tossed it onto the dash next to the donut. Mina dug into her pocket for hers. Three cars. Only two booths were open at the tollgate; what were they thinking? Obviously they were going to torture people who had to get to work. This was your punishment for losing your freeway license. This was your punishment for oversleeping. As the clock ticked towards 6AM the cars behind Tranh’s began inching further forward; someone started honking agitatedly. They weren’t going to make it. Two cars. Mina looked nervously over at Tranh. “Shit,” Tranh muttered. “Come on.”

The honking got louder; behind them someone in an SUV tried to cut over into another lane and barge in, but was cut off by another car. The SUV driver got out of his truck. The guy who cut him off opened his car door. Mina turned and laughed. “Ooh, fistfight, go, go” she urged them on. One car. “Come on, come on,” Tranh said, clutching the wheel. 5:59.

The last car ahead of them pulled off onto the onramp as the clock on the dash clicked over the deadline. “This is your lucky day,” the tollgate operator said grimly as they pulled up, scanning their passes with the laser through the open window. Tranh and Mina smiled sweetly at him; they were not about to do or say anything that would make him reconsider letting them through. They were good commuters.

“Have a nice day,” the tollgate guy said as he opened the gate for them, the last car onto the freeway, and Tranh couldn’t help but grin at the angry barrage of honking as the gate came down behind him. “Enjoy the back roads, losers,” Mina called gaily back as he accelerated up the hill and into the trees.

Mina waited until they had made the first turn out of town, until they were out of sight of the tollbooth and the CHP station before unzipping her bag. Then she got right to work. Tranh didn’t understand half the equipment she arranged and plugged in and booted up, but he knew that she could use it to plug into the sats to track the CHP on the road and to block the GPS in his car so that they couldn’t track him. It was all top of the line in anti-CHP snooping tech. It was also incredibly illegal. But then, so was his car.

Mina stuck her tiny laptop up on the dash, where it bleeped twice at her as if saying a cheery hello. “We’re online,” she said, pushing her hair behind her ears. Tranh pressed down the accelerator, sped up to 80. No reason to continue going the speed limit. He passed two other cars along the way. “One CHP up in Scotts Valley, looks like he’s parked.” Mina commented, tapping a key. “Two at the Summit. Another one over by the sand pile. That’s it. Really quiet. Huh.”

Tranh nodded. No CHP, good. That would make for an uneventful commute. He liked an uneventful commute.

The road to Silicon Valley from Santa Cruz had never been a fun commute. Four-lane Highway 17 twisted through the mountains and was crowded and prone to accidents since, well, since forever. Back when it was a two-lane dirt road at the turn of the last century people had complained about wagons taking it too fast. But it was at the turn of this century, during the Internet gold rush, that 17 had gone completely out of control. With seemingly half of Santa Cruz working in high tech in the valley and commuting over the hill every day, the road was constantly packed with stressed-out drivers taking this same unsafe road either at insane rates of speed or at a dead stop for hours at a time. In the morning they were anxious to get to work and angry about having to get there; at night they were anxious to get home and angry about having spent the day there. Welcome to Highway 17, today’s soup of the day is Road Rage served hot.

17 had been one of the first freeways to go controlled when the Bay Area highway system converted in 2006. If you had a freeway license and your car had the legally-required transponder units, you hit the tollgates, plugged in your destination and the freeway took over your car. It was just like being on the subway or an airplane; you could read or listen to music or sleep. No traffic jams, no accidents, and a consistent 75 MPH rate of speed. People loved it. Of course, if you were a troublemaker — if you got caught dealing drugs, molesting children or hacking the transponder unit in your car — you could lose your freeway license, and then you’d have to take back roads if you wanted to get anywhere. The other choice was to apply for a pre-commute license, which allowed you to drive on the freeways during the few hours a day they weren’t controlled. This didn’t mean pre-commute was a wild and exciting time; the CHP swarmed over the freeways during pre-commute, and if they caught you doing illegal things or just not being a good commuter you were in deep, deep trouble indeed.

Tranh tried to stay out of deep trouble. Most of the time. He just didn’t like how the controlled freeways felt, didn’t like the lack of control. The freeways had been built so that cars could go fast. That was the point. It was wrong and evil to take the ability to go fast out of the hands of the drivers, simply because there were too many idiots on the road. OK, so practically no one died on the roads anymore. Driving on the freeways sucked now. It was no fun. Screw that.

He had tried to follow the rules. He had commuted just like everyone else. But he hadn’t been able to resist a few modifications to the little red Honda, just a few things he found on some blackmarket web pages, a tuning chip here, a pipe there, a little back-alley suspension work there. He couldn’t go fast on the freeways but it helped some on the city streets. Car mods were illegal, too, under the same law that controlled the freeways, but the CHP looked the other way for that. He didn’t get into real trouble until he tried poking around with the tracking unit in the car.

They caught him at that within days, and then they came down on him hard, and next thing he knew he had a year’s suspension and no freeway license for life. The suspension had been a very dark year in his life, a horrible time when he had had to bum rides from friends and even occasionally (shudder) take the bus up into the valley into work. He had applied for a pre-commute license after a month of it, and once his suspension was over it had been granted. It was then that the mods he had made to his car really came in handy.

They were approaching Scotts Valley and Mina’s laptop made an inquisitive chirp. Mina immediately pulled the machine down from the dash and Tranh took his foot off the accelerator, slowing to 50, and ducked into the right lane. After this much time commuting together, Tranh didn’t have to ask Mina what was up. There was a CHP up ahead. Time to behave like a good commuter.

“Where is he?” he asked as she tapped away on the keys. “Coming up soon,” Mina said. “He’s moving, I think he’s on the freeway ahead of us. Another quarter mile.” she looked up and squinted, pushed her hair out of her face again. “Soon.”

A blue Saturn raced by them in the left lane, going far too fast for the neighborhood. “Jeez, what a moron,” Tranh commented. “Wonder if he thinks this is a 75 zone or something.”

“Don’t complain,” Mina said. “He’ll distract the CHP. Ah,” she pointed to the screen as a dot near the top began to flash. “Yes, he will, here’s a speeder report just in, blue Saturn, yup, they’ve got a lock on him. He’s doomed.”

The traffic slowed ahead as the CHP landed its victim and the pre-commuters gawked. The driver of the Saturn was a young guy, Tranh’s age, who was looking truly miserable through the open window of the car as they passed. He had a right to be miserable. Mess up on pre-commute and you were talking jail time.

“Poor guy,” Tranh said as they sped up again.

Mina shrugged. “No sympathy. He fucked up. He had no commute partner watching out for him, probably didn’t even have any tech. If you don’t have the tech, don’t play the game. He took a chance and he fucked up. No sympathy.”

Beyond the city limits it was business as usual, the laptop went back up on the dash and their speed went back up to bearable limits. This was the fun part, when the twists started, the part where you had to concentrate and really drive. This was the part of the commute Tranh liked best. He weaved around slower cars as he drove, diving in and out of the left and right lanes, occasionally dipping back in order to get a better position out front. In some places there was less traffic and he could speed up for the straights, brake hard for the corners and then a quick double-clutch downshift for the curves, an instinctive motion he had practiced again and again since he was sixteen until it was so perfect he could feel with his feet and his hands and his bones and his blood exactly when to clutch, when to shift, when to brake. This was it, this was what driving was supposed to be, what it was like before the freeways had gone controlled. God, how he missed this.

“Where are all the people?” he asked abruptly. “Its awfully slow today. We’re the only cheaters. No one’s challenging us. No CHP anywhere. Did everyone get out on the road early today or something?”

“I thought you liked it quiet,” she said.

“I do!” he replied. “Its just weird, you know — no CHP, no weird drivers — its like a holiday or something. Doesn’t feel like a commute at all.”

Mina snorted. “You’re so weird,” she commented, thumbing the on button on the stereo. The music burst from the speakers, loud and fast, some punk band Mina had brought a CD for last time. “You complain when there’s too much traffic and everyone’s wound up, and now you’re complaining that there’s not enough traffic. Quit complaining. Just enjoy it. Drive the car.”

“I wasn’t complaining,” he protected, glanced over and then let his voice trail away. Mina had stretched her arms up and back over the seat as the music blared on, her jacket gaping open in the front. She was wearing one of those tight short tops again, the ones that rode up when she stretched, exposing the line of her ribs and the light skin of her belly, her navel dimpling inward like the stem end of an apple. Tranh placed his hands on the steering wheel in perfect 10-2 position and stared forward at the road. Drive the car. Drive the car.

He had known Mina for, what, six months now. They had met at a geek party in Santa Cruz a friend of Tranh’s had thrown, one of those big parties that was advertised on the Web and where no one knows anyone else except from their email addresses, their weblog pseudos, the names they chose to use on the Net. He had arrived late, and had to park a bunch of blocks away. Mina had walked up just as he was emerging from his car, and had stopped to look at the car as he shut the door and clicked the alarm on. He looked at her suspiciously. He had taken great pains to hide the mods he had made to the car; from the outside it looked like a plain ordinary Honda. But someone who knew cars could often tell.

“Nice car,” she had said, looking up at him. He thanked her. And then she came right out and asked the question: “Do you hack?”

He was stunned. People just didn’t ask total strangers these questions out in public, where anyone could hear.

“Hack? You mean, uh…computers?” He stuttered back at her, looking around anxiously to see if there was anyone around.

“No.” She smiled gently, as if to a child, pushed her hair behind her ears and tipped her chin at the Honda. “No. Cars.”

He paused, considered, gulped. She stood, waiting. She didn’t look like CHP. She was skinny and had ragged hair in a furious shade of violet. Her skirt was so short she was almost wearing it under her armpits. Was it a trap? What should he do?

“No, no, of course not.” he finally replied. “Its illegal to modify cars in this state. That’s a completely stock Honda.”

She looked at him for a long time, then leaned over a bit and stared pointedly at the back of the Honda. “That’s a nice pipe on that car. I think I saw one of those at a show once. A guy named Newt makes them. Heard of him? Newt Performance? Oh, but you wouldn’t have.” She stood back upright, smiled again, folded her arms. “Its illegal to modify cars in this state.”

Tranh kept his mouth shut. If she was CHP, he was in trouble.

She started to laugh at him. “Don’t freak out,” she said. “I won’t tell on you. My brother used to mod Acuras before they made it illegal,” she explained. “I know a tuned car when I see one. Are you going to Tommy’s party, by any chance?”

“Yeah,” he replied. Well, this was totally bizarre. She gestured and they began to walk together down the block toward the house. “I had to park all the way down here, though. Its busy.”

“I had to walk all the way from Pacific.” she replied. He gaped at her. Pacific Avenue was three miles away, and she was wearing high heels. She shrugged. “No license. You cope.”

“No license? How did you lose it?”

“Bad attitude.”

“Bad attitude?”

“I flashed the CHP during a commute.”

“They take your license away for that?”

“No, they pull you over for that. But I had tracker software on my laptop and I forgot to put it away. They nail you but good for that.”

Tracker software? She hacked CHP sat systems, too? “You’re a tracker?” he asked, stunned.

“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I work for a company in the valley that does sat phones. There’s a lot of overlap.”

Tranh smiled. “Oh, you too. Seems like everyone works in the valley these days.”

“Is that any surprise?” Mina said. “The valley’s where all the action is.”

“Too bad about the commute.” Tranh said ruefully. “It must be tough getting up to the valley without a license.”

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “I used to bum rides with a friend, but he got arrested last month. Do you commute?”

Tranh looked at her; she looked at him. He took the chance. “I pre-commute,” he said. “I don’t have a freeway license.”

“What did you lose it for?” She asked, grinning at him.

He looked around. There was no one else there. “Car hacking.”

She laughed again, a laugh that said distinctly, I am laughing at you, not with you. “I see. What’s your name?”

“Tranh,” he replied.

“Mina,” she stuck out her hand. He took it. Her skin was cold. He felt uncomfortably warm. “Tell me, Tranh, do you have a commute partner?”

“A commute partner?”

“Someone to watch out for you while you’re driving. Someone to ride shotgun, to keep an eye out. Someone, say, to keep track of where the CHP is so that you won’t have any problems on your drive.”

There was a long silence as they walked down the sidewalk, Mina’s heels tapping on the pavement. “No,” Tranh said, cautiously, as they approached Tommy’s house, fully lit up and overflowing with people. “No, I don’t have a commute partner.”

“Well, tell you what,” Mina said. “Let’s get a couple beers in us and get to know each other, and then I might just have a proposal for you.”

 

* * * *

 

A car came up behind them, fast. Really fast. A big car, too. Tranh watched in the rearview, accelerated slightly as the car came up. An SUV of some sort, big, and black, with tinted windows. He accelerated more. The SUV kept pace, moving even closer to Tranh’s bumper. He moved into the right lane to let it pass, the polite thing to do, but the big car followed into that same lane. Then it flashed its headlights at him.

“Uh oh,” Tranh said.

“What?” Mina sat upright. She had been starting out at the trees at the side of the road, one foot up on the dash, tapping her foot to the music.

“We’ve just been challenged.”

Mina turned around to look. She made a rude noise. “Its a fucking SUV. You can outrun a fucking SUV any day of the week.”

“I’m really not in the mood for this,” Tranh muttered.

“Oh come on!” Mina laughed. “We’ve got no CHP anywhere. No traffic. Its a great day! And its just an SUV!”

“Its some kind of weird SUV,” Tranh protested. “He’s got mods. He’s been keeping up with me, through the straights, through the turns. That thing has serious mods and it handles better than any SUV I’ve ever seen.” They had just passed Glenwood and Tranh had downshifted into the tight corner just past the exit, guiding the Honda through the trees. The SUV had kept pace with them throughout the entire conversation.

Mina popped open her laptop and braced her hand against the door as they veered off into another corner. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said, pointing to the screen. Tranh didn’t look over; he was driving. “I can’t see him on here. He must have some pretty serious GPS blockers for that, I just downloaded the latest software yesterday. I’d really like to see what’s going on inside that car. Hey! Watch it!”

The SUV had pulled alongside them on the right and then had moved over, nudging them to the left. But there was nowhere to go on the left, no shoulder, nothing but a guardrail between them and the opposite lanes. Tranh plugged his foot on the brake, hoping no one was behind him as the Honda squirted out backward from the squeeze. No one was behind them, of course; everyone had dropped far back almost immediately. No one wanted to be anywhere near a challenge. Challenges were dangerous.

“Shit, that was close,” Mina said as the SUV blithely moved over into their lane as if it hadn’t even seen them. As if.

“Asshole,” Tranh cursed. “That was out of control. Fucker. No way is he getting away with that.” Downshift. Second gear, back up the hill to where the big black SUV had slowed and was waiting, waiting for them to catch up. He was playing with them.

“Well, OK then.” Mina grinned. Mina loved challenges, loved the aggression, loved the adrenaline. She said it made her day at work a lot more interesting. Tranh was sort of glad he didn’t work at her company.

Tranh pulled up behind the SUV, flashed his lights. The gauntlet thrown down, he zipped around to the right, cut in front, zapped the brake twice, forcing the SUV to brake to keep from hitting them, and then floored the accelerator, pulling ahead. Now that he was in front it was down to just driving skill, and there was no SUV on the road could beat him there.

Or so he thought, but this was some mutant SUV. He could out-maneuver it in the corners, but then it would barrel up and catch up in the straights. “Shit, what kind of airplane engine has he GOT in that thing?” he asked after the third time the SUV had caught right up to him, caught up and once even nudged him from behind. Tranh practically had to float the valves to get away from him.

“We’re coming up on the Summit,” Mina warned. “We have three CHP parked at the hut.”

“Shit. Shit.” Tranh had no choice but to fall back to the speed limit. You could not go at full speed through the flats near the summit, where there was a CHP outpost, running a challenge. But if Tranh didn’t keep ahead who knows what the SUV would do.

At nearly the same time Tranh slowed, the SUV also fell back and also maintained the identical speed, just a mile above the limit. “Does he know or is he just teasing us?” Tranh asked suspiciously.

“I’d put $50 on it that he knows.” Mina said. “He’s got a tracker in there like me, I just know it.”

Together, side by side, they casually drove over the pass, two ordinary good commuters obeying the law, passing the stationary black and white cars at the CHP hut. Mina waved cheerfully as they passed.

They waited a good margin after the summit, both the Honda and the SUV, remaining side by side, speeding up down the hill, and Mina then turned to the SUV just outside her window and gave it a double-barrelled middle finger salute. “Back off!” she screeched at the truck. Nothing but silence from the tinted windows of the black SUV.

Tranh threw the car into the curve the locals called Valley Surprise, a tight, reverse-banked right hander, and the SUV next to him wavered, fell back a little. A break? Was this it? Was he winning? He seized the opportunity and pushed the accelerator harder, pushing the Honda harder, and then suddenly next to him there was an explosion of light and sound and Mina shrieked, threw one arm over her face and the other on her laptop.

“Shit!” Tranh yelled as the passenger window dissolved into crumbs, littering both of them and the inside of the car with squares of crystal. He toed the brake, dipped back behind the black SUV, where the rear window was just sliding back up into place. “Shit!” he repeated. “He’s shooting at us?! This is totally out of control!” Mina had yanked her laptop off the dash, cords flying everywhere. She stuffed the laptop into into her bag and was rooting around in it, the wind from the shattered window tossing her hair around her face.

“I thought I told you to get bulletproof,” she said angrily, glancing over at Tranh as she continued to search.

“Bulletproof! Like we ever need bulletproof glass! Like I can afford bulletproof glass!” Tranh shouted back at her. “Its bulletproof or a better turbo! I don’t have that much cash! You could pay for gas sometimes you know! Holy shit! Where did you get that?” Mina had found what she was looking for in her bag: the biggest gun Tranh had ever seen, OK, the only gun Tranh had ever seen. Guns had been illegal in California since ’02, no one had guns anymore, and especially not enormous handguns with laser sights like the one Mina was holding. There were dispensations for celebrities and the very rich, of course, but he was pretty sure Mina didn’t fall into either of those categories. “Oh, my God, we are going to get in so much trouble,” he said, shaking his head. The SUV was rapidly vanishing ahead of them around the next curve.

“Don’t freak out,” Mina said. “Just pull up and let’s get even for your window.”

“You’re joking,” Tranh gaped, trying to steer and wave his hands in a panic at the same time. “You’re totally joking. This is insane. Challenges don’t work like this.”

“Tell it to that guy,” Mina pointed to the SUV. “I’m not going to kill him, Tranh, I’m just going to hurt his car a little. Come on, its the challenge. Come on, you have to.” She leaned over, the gun in one hand, the other resting on his knee. Shit. “Come on,” she said, her voice low, her eyes bright. “Come on.”

He could barely hear her over the music and wind noise, but things were remarkably quiet in his head. “Shit,” Tranh said, finally. A quick heel-toe downshift, and the Honda shrieked into redline as Mina cocked the handgun and flipped on the laser.

They caught up to the SUV at the next corner, and Tranh pulled up close and flashed his lights. The challenge again. “Pull up, pull up,” Mina urged him, wedging her shoulder in the seat and taking aim as Tranh dived past a Dodge and drew even with the cursed SUV. They were heading into Big Moody Curve, a tight downhill decreasing-radius turn, marked at 40mph. Side by side, the Honda and the SUV entered the turn at 85 MPH. The road weaved and jumped and Tranh glanced over to see the dot of the laser bounce across the mirrored surface of the SUV’s windows as she fought to aim.

She pulled the trigger. An enormous explosion of noise, but then nothing happened. “Fuck,” Mina cursed, “HE has bulletproof!” She wiggled down in the seat, and her skirt pushed up her thighs as she braced against the footwell for better aim. She had wonderfully muscled legs. Tranh stared forward, keeping the Honda steady as the SUV threatened on the right. Drive the car. Drive the car.

Another explosion. A whoop from Mina. “Drop back! Back! Now!” she yelled. The SUV suddenly swerved left, but Tranh was already hard on the brakes, hard around the corner, out of the way of the swerve and Mina was leaning all the way out the window, still firing. She had shot out his front tire, and then she got both his rears. The SUV overcorrected the swerve, bounced off the guardrail, came over right, and then began to tip. “Ohhhh, shit,” Mina said, pulling back in, and watching with her mouth open as the SUV skidded all the way over onto its side on the right, all the way off the road, onto the shoulder and into the trees with a huge cloud of dust. Tranh slowed as they passed.

“Yeah! Fuckin’ SUVs! They’re big, but they sure fall hard!” Mina cackled madly, pumped with adrenaline, flinging herself at Tranh and kissing him madly.

“Hey! Hey! I’m driving here!” he said. “And could you put the gun away please? Jeez.”

“Sorry,” she said, panting, settling back in her seat and putting the handgun lovingly back into the bag. “That was SO COOL. You did SO GREAT. We are SUCH a great team.” She pumped that air and giggled. Giggled! “I am going to have such a great day after that.”

Tranh just shook his head. He looked back in the rearview mirror, but they had gone through enough turns that you could no longer see the tipped SUV. “Do you think they’re OK?” he asked, quietly.

Mina looked over at him. “I can report it, if you want.”

Tranh glanced back at her. “Yeah, that’d be good.”

Mina got her laptop out again, reconnected the wires, got back online. “black late-model Ford SUV, firestoned on NB 17 point five miles past Big Moody Curve,” she said as she typed. “Sound good?”

“That can’t be traced to us, can it?” Tranh said nervously.

“Of course not.” Mina looked insulted. “Not with my equipment. They can’t see us, can’t hear us, can’t tell where we come from. The message will look like a plain CHP dispatch, could have come from anywhere.”

“OK,” Tranh said. He hoped the people in the SUV were OK. They didn’t really deserve it, after all, they were assholes and they had tried to kill them, but he still hoped they were OK. Suddenly, despite all the caffiene and sugar in his mocha and his donut he felt very tired. Were things getting worse? Was the commute getting harder? They had been in a lot of challenges before, a lot of times when he had outraced or been outraced by other cars. Some of the challenges had gotten nasty, a lot of aggressive driving and threats and sometimes even contact. Once Tranh had been run into the barrier and his left fender had been scraped up pretty badly. But this, this was totally way off the scale for the commute. This stuff just didn’t happen.

“Hey Mina,” he asked, turning the music down. “Do you ever get tired of all this shit?”

Mina looked over, confused. “Tired? What do you mean?”

“Tired. Of everything. Of the challenges, of the constantly watching for people, of having to get up at oh-dark-thirty every morning just to get out here in time for the pre-commute. Just of the commute. Don’t you ever want to get a job in Santa Cruz, or even just move away, move somewhere where the CHP are normal, where they don’t track you with GPS, where they let you drive on the freeways whenever you want to? Don’t you ever want to get away from all the craziness in the Valley?”

Mina stared at him for a long time like he had grown a plant out of his forehead. “Leave the Valley?” she asked him incredulously. “Leave? You can’t be serious.” They were just passing Bear Creek road, where the last of the mountain commuters forced their way onto 17 just before it deltaed into the valley itself. “You can’t leave Silicon Valley,” Mina insisted. “The Valley is where all the action is.”