Sunday, July 20

For the Love of the Drive

The idea of a road trip has always been romantic, unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson (a different kind of romance, anyway), and I love driving.  I just drove up and down California’s Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and so it seemed an apt time to talk about how great driving is.  Please, let me drive there. Don't make me take a plane.  I'll drive all over God's green earth and you can have your convenience of flying. Let. Me. Drive. Buckle up for the jump!

I know that some people don’t enjoy driving.  I enjoy it immensely!  It cracks me up that when people hear that I love driving they often assume I drive a large, spacious car.  I don’t.  I drive a Civic, my ’12 is roomier than my ’02, but not exactly open or expansive (and, frankly, less comfortable than my old one).  I’ll admit that part of my love of driving is that I hate flying.  I’m writing this in an airport and if I had more vacation time, I would happily drive back across the country over a few days than fly.  Flying = barf.

Driving is an American pastime.  It’s incredible to think about how much ground we can cover with the help of modern invention and speed limits of 70mph.  Driving birthed the industries of fast food, the interstate highway system, enhanced the drug trade.  Similar to going to a concert, driving is a multisensory experience.  Driving lets you take in more of the sights, get acquainted with a place, smell the flowers.  I can also acknowledge that it isn’t all sunshine and roses and that the carbon footprint of driving places isn’t low impact so it should be done with some discrimination and for heaven’s sake, don’t just leave your car idling with the air conditioning on everywhere you go.

Have you ever seen My Own Private Idaho? (And, I mean, maybe don’t, if you love your heart.)  Mike is a connoisseur of roads, we learn in the very beginning.  The roads are gorgeous and he has seizures.  I’m quite convinced that I have a touch of Stendhal syndrome, so driving is exciting.  Driving is arousing and stimulating.  Driving enlivens me.  Alone.  When I’m alone.  When I'm with a trusted companion, driving opens me up.  Driving allows me to expose myself to someone when I don't have to look them in the eye-- we suggested this strategy when I used to teach sex ed.

Mike is quite right, though.  You hit the road and the road has a texture.  Is it smooth?  Is it bouncy?  Is it rutted?  How does the road treat you?  Is it gentle and still like the Midwest?  Is it wavy and uptight with twists and turns like New England?  Does it grip you and threaten to drop you into the sea, like on the PCH?  You hit the road and the road has its own expectations for you; you’re too slow, you’re too fast, the wind will blow you, the gravel will roll you, the traffic will swallow you, the sunlight will cuddle you.

Driving up the PCH was outrageous.  Doug just did that same drive for mental health awareness with part of the metaphor being that no matter the beauty around you, depression can rob one of the ability to grasp it (Doug's blog).  He did his drive in the dark.  I hit the dark and had to abandon ship because I got so freaked out; see also the metaphor of mental illness.  On my drive from Santa Monica to San Francisco (and ultimately Berkeley), I aptly listened to Best Coast, I said Oh my god! outloud to myself in my car numerous times.  The sunlight knocked me out, the seals called in my ears, the sea smelled different the whole way up the coast, the wind in the farmlands walloped the car, I could smell the strawberries and broccoli growing in the fields, the color of the water was stunning, the way the fog curled up over the hills and collapsed in the subsequent valleys was dazzling.  I thought my car was going to just drop into the ocean more than once.  Suddenly there were redwoods.  Suddenly there were no other cars.  Suddenly the mountain side was gilt by golden rod.  Suddenly there were cactus.  Suddenly it was raining.  Suddenly there was a town.  I had to pull over and take some pictures because I thought I was going to pass out from how gorgeous it was (see? Stendhal syndrome, I’m telling ya).  There may have been a sign for javelina crossing?

When you're driving, you get to experience the land in a way like no other.  There's a relationship between you and the car, the car and the road.  Laugh at the billboards, marvel at the colors, consider the culture of where you are.  Sing along to the radio or talk to your passenger.  Driving allows you to experience aloneness or connection in a way which is unique and with unwavering attention.  The experience and the commanding power one has over driving is unlike anything else left in this world.  You get to be yourself and carry yourself to somewhere entirely new.

Remember, never fly to the Midwest. Drive.  Take it all in.  Smell it.  Look at the billboards.  Consider the road.  Admire the textures.  Find all the red tail hawks.  There's a beauty in that sitting, let it embrace you.  Put on a great playlist.  Contemplate existence.  Take a drive.