With the right conditions, there are few things I enjoy more than driving. I love piloting my car down straightway and curvy road alike, hearing the low hum of its engine and watching the scenery go by while Shostakovich or the Beatles play on the stereo. But the joy I get from driving only comes a tiny minority of the time. Far more often, I feel like soda pop in a can that’s been shaken, ready to explode.
Wherever I go there is another car in front of me, and in just about every case it’s doing something that gets on my nerves. Usually that means going too slowly, but there is any number of additional frustrations. But my quarrel here is not necessarily with other drivers. I’ve learned that you can’t expect people to drive well. Besides, I prefer to go considerably faster than most, so naturally I’m just asking for a life of frustration on the road stuck behind someone with the audacity to go the speed limit.
In an ideal situation, I’d only drive the car for trips out of town, saving other excursions for mass transit or my own two feet. But it’s all too tempting to get behind the wheel for that quick jaunt to the grocery store. So time after time I put myself in a position to let my short fuse burn. I’m driving a couple miles to the bank and a slowpoke just barely gets through the yellow light while I have to wait for the red. Or there’s a multi-block traffic jam because a bus is stopping every fifty yards and none of us can get around. I realize this is just par for the course, but somehow I can’t get past this hopelessly naïve, idealistic notion that I’ll be able to freely drive down the road without anything (traffic lights, construction barricades) or anyone (all the other people doing the same thing as me) getting in the way.
Right now Valarie’s mom is recovering from surgery, and unfortunately she’s continued to smoke cigarettes along the way, making her recovery more prolonged and difficult. I feel like driving is the same for me. I’m so much more relaxed when I find some other way to get where I’m going, even if it takes a lot longer or requires a little huffing and puffing. But somehow I still often wind up behind the wheel when it’s not necessary.
I’m a big believer in mass transit as a way for cities to function better. I know society’s dependence on automobiles is bad for the environment and bad for city planning. After WWII we built suburbs around the auto, with big surface parking lots and freeways and separate places for residential and commercial buildings. It was an unmitigated disaster. Suburbs are in my opinion a terrible place to be. There’s even worse traffic than in high-density urban areas, yet there’s no vitality, just faceless ubiquity. And it’s the car’s fault! Yet what do I do day after day? I pass up the bus and climb behind the wheel.
I often think of that line from “Synchronicity II” by The Police: “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes”. I don’t want to be a lemming, but I am one. I’m seduced by the romantic notion of blasting off, completely in control of where I’m going and when. I’m seduced by cars themselves, so much that I spend thousands more to own and maintain an old BMW that I dreamed about having as a kid—and that followed the Mustang I owned and had dreamt about before that.
I guess I’m writing this because I want to know: Is it possible to have it both ways? Can you love cars and love driving but then keep yourself away the majority of the time?
Maybe it’s best to think of it like food. Busses and bikes and my own two feet are like bread. They’re the daily sustenance I need to stay healthy. The 733i in my driveway is the cake. It sounds nice to eat cake at every meal, but soon it will start to make you sick. You’ve got to make it the treat.
But all this is easier said than done. What happens tomorrow when it’s 11:30am, I have to be downtown for a meeting at 12:00, and it’s too late to take the bus? It’s all a vicious cycle. But I wouldn’t want Valarie’s mom to stop trying to give up cigarettes out of futility. So where did I put those bus tickets?