Small talk / by Vanessa Fiola

**The next 7 days I'll be posting 500 words a day here as part of a creative writing challenge. Join the FB group.”

It is winter in LA. When it was actually winter in LA it was fall. I am freezing, which is confusing because it is deceptively beautiful and sunny. I made the mistake of putting away the majority of my winter gear last weekend. Despite the 10-day forecast on my iphone assuring me that I will continue to freeze for the near future, cognitive dissonance prevents me from doing anything about it. Instead, I dug a beanie out of my closet, that lone beacon of warmth, and stoically walk into work. My limbs may crystallize during the 9-minutes from the parking lot to my building, but my ears will be downright balmy.

On the drive home yesterday, I listened to a Modern Love podcast about the ills of small talk. The writer of the story is an actuary from Boston, who, upon having his heart broken, set out on a path to only engage in meaningful conversation. I didn’t quite understand how one necessitated the other,  but regardless, he forged a considerable argument against talk of the weather and traffic. Towards the end, eventually he acknowledged slight value in more banal subjects. Unfortunately, I had already tuned out. Honestly, it’s just hard for me to relate to anyone who can’t understand my pain.

Anyway, this post is about small talk like weather and traffic.

Almost five months ago I got a new car. For tax reasons I do not understand, my car is more or less expensed, but can only be more or less expensed as long as I am leasing. Last October, I headed to the dealer towards the end of my previous lease. I will save the story about how much I hate the dealer—seriously never go there—but I will say I got my first hybrid and I love it an unhealthy amount. It didn't start out that way, though.

I work with someone who is strangely obsessed with batteries and, coincidentally, also the environment, so I went straight to her when I couldn’t figure out how my hybrid battery worked and why it only lasted for two miles on EVO mode in rush hour traffic and why did my gas mileage suck. She said a bunch of words about stored and converted energy, punctuated by her enthusiasm and genuine interest in the subject. I definitely understood each of the individual words she used. Strung together, though, I mean, I tilted my head towards the right and asked the universe if we had any more pour-over.

I am more of a conceptual learner anyway. On a recent trip to the desert, I watched in awe as Ryan coasted and glided his way to 28.5 sweet miles per gallon. For a small SUV, that is broaching eco-warrior territory.
Like with most things, I am now obsessed with figuring out how to make my car more efficient. I gamify my drive to and from work and experience disproportionate joy when my digital meter increments a mere tenth of a point. Earlier this week I discovered that rush hour traffic is incredible for conserving gas! The discovery has turned me into one of those people who drives in the slow lane and intentionally takes the shitty way home. Up until this point, the whole of my driving life has been spent calculating the distance and time between my car and the seconds remaining on the walk sign at the far end of the intersection. This shift is how I know I’ve evolved, which doesn’t sound like small talk to me at all.