In the Car
posted by Jon on 3/13/03
"Well, you gassed her up, behind the wheel
With your arm around your sweet one in your Oldsmobile
Barrelin' down the boulevard
You're lookin' for the heart of Saturday night"
- Tom Waits
Over the course of the past few weeks, my friends and I have begun thinking of ways to spend our Spring Break. Perhaps it's a little sad that I'm still excited about Spring Break, because truth be told, I don't go to school for the time being. Similarly, the heartbreakingly inexorable march of time has failed to abate my excitement over a snow day -- when I wake up to see the roads and rooftops blanketed in white, I jump out of my bed and vainly slide the AM dial up and down on my radio. Call me pathetic if you will, but the other day I finally stopped waiting at my old bus stop after the bus driver sympathetically, yet firmly explained to me that I was not allowed to attend my old high school, even though I had gone through all the trouble of packing my lunch, notebooks, and plenty of extra pencils. It was a sad, slow walk home that morning.
I wish they could at least keep a straight face when they leave me at the bus stop. Assholes.
Nothing can take the joys of Spring Break away from me, however. We've been talking about it for a while now and come up with a lot of potential destinations, and I've finally begun to ask myself what exactly I would want to do most. I've proposed the Grand Canyon, Miami, Denver, and New Orleans, among others. All were shot down because my friends didn't want to drive all that way. Then I realized something.
I was just looking for an excuse to drive. A destination would be nice, but it's really just an excuse to make the journey. I'm sure that, were I properly educated, I would use this instance to allude to some ancient Greek fable that would probably involve dragons, radical philosophies, and romancing one's mother. But I'm not, and that is gross.
It's strange to think that of all the ways I could escape my life for a week, I would choose to spend it largely in a place in which I already spend an hour every day. It sort of fits, though, because often, driving in my car is the closest thing to a vacation that I can muster.
It may not sound exciting to you. But this is how I see it: I participate in enough complex activities -- i.e. working, playing video games, conversing with others -- as is, and my idea of a vacation is to rest, and simplify my experience. And when I break down my personal satisfaction to its most primitive level, I can identify what really makes me happy. I want to be able to sit, lean back, and stare into space, without feeling guilty or stupid. I want to be comfortable. I want an excuse to listen to music all day, without being preoccupied with complex multitasking.
My car offers all these things. Once I get on the highway, there isn't much to do but drive straight. Now, I don't want to start sounding like Buddha, and go on about how life's simple pleasures can be found in the chirp of a bluebird, or a falling leaf, or whatever the hell. My simple pleasures are found in a reliable, well-maintained car with air-conditioning, a $700 stereo, and a $200 gas card. The reality is, in these days of computers, cell phones, all those wild and wacky "reality" television programs such as Survivor, my old whorehag of a wife, and anything else I forgot to mention that the weird old guy who hangs around my workplace is always rambling about, simplicity is a luxury, and is contingent upon one's ability and willingness to play society's game of sophistication, haste, and confusion.
I hope I don't come off as pretentious or shallow here. I'm not trying to say that each and every one of you needs to purchase a 1995 Toyota Celica, install a CD player, drop a couple of 10"s in the trunk, and hit the road, like I do. On the contrary, the fifth generation (1990-93) is very nice as well.
For those of you who feel that I am alienating you by rambling on about the extravagant automotive lifestyle that is affordable only to an Internet website writer, I apologize and wish to clarify. You see, I once drove a piece of shit.
No, no. I meant "piece of shit" figuratively.
It was a 1989 Dodge Shadow. 92 horsepower. No A/C. A radio that would work once every few days, crackle in one speaker, and only pick up AM stations. Paint that flaked off every time I went above 60 MPH (50 KPH for you Brits). A hood which required frequent popping and a wooden stick to keep it propped up.
And God, I loved that thing. Then, as I do now, I would delay sleep for just a few more hours so I could take it out for a midnight joyride. Whenever I had a shitty day, I'd cruise it around (as much as you can "cruise" a 1989 Dodge Shadow) until I didn't feel shitty anymore. And it always worked.
The point is this:
You don't have to have anything better than a rustbucket on wheels to appreciate the driving experience. As stupid as it might sound to you, I truly believe that if one has the proper understanding of the automobile experience, driving a Corvette with a premium sound system as opposed to a 1985 Toyota Corolla with a duct-tape window increases the enjoyment factor by no more than 20%. All you really need is a tank full of gas.
Is this all you need? You're goddamn skippy it is.
"My car is like my own personal universe
She's my drug and it only takes twelve bucks to fill 'er up"
I think people these days are spoiled to a near-tragic extent. A century ago, the opportunity to pilot a motor-coach would have been the greatest moment of one's life. It's incredible, really. For thousands of years, Man had largely been fettered to the prospect of walking where he wanted to go. The ability to will one's self around without hardly moving a muscle is an amazing, almost godlike one. Yet we take in stride. We no longer stare in awe, perhaps like we did as small children, at the blades of grass on the side of the road that slowly merge into one as the car accelerates, then disjoin near the approaching red light. We never stick our hands out of the car and let the wind try to carry us away. We don't think it odd or incredible that a gallon of fluid can carry thousands of pounds for thirty miles.
The trick is to find that feeling again. It's hard to do, but if you roll down the windows and cruise around long enough, it's guaranteed to take you. Remember that you're moving at a speed at which many can only travel in their dreams. With the press of your foot, you can grip the chunk of the Earth you want to escape and rip it behind you, and when you are ready, you can pull it back to where it was.
Even without taking this into account, though, the car is a remarkable place to be. When you're alone in a car, your privacy is nearly unparalleled with any other experience throughout the course of a normal day. For many, the modern lifestyle is one that, more often than not, neglects the need for seclusion. The car offers them what they really need: an excuse to sit and reflect upon things for a while.
Unfortunately, many of the people who need to chill out the most are the ones who waste this opportunity. They put themselves into positions that force them to get rush to their destinations in unreasonably small amounts of time, and when they encounter road work or incompetent drivers, their risk of suffering a heart attack triples. They yell, bitch, cuss, pound the dashboard, and fail to accept the futility of it. In my opinion, driving can and should be a therapeutic and beneficial experience, and those who don't use it as such are cheating themselves.
I'd explain all this to my friends, but they'd probably accuse me of being a homosexual. Fuck them, I'll go on a road trip by myself. I'll make a game out of how many miles I can possibly squeeze out of my gas tank. I'll drive up to the houses across the country in which I spent my childhood, pause, and enjoy the view through the contemporary, deliciously anachronistic frame of my passenger's side window. As I make my way west, I'll streak across I-70 fast enough to make the eerily omnipresent Kansas sunset last a hundred miles.
When I've nearly had my fill, I'll coast into the parking space below my unspectacular apartment, wait for Radiohead's "OK Computer" to finish its set, cut the ignition, and unbuckle my seatbelt.
Then I'll sit alone, and enjoy those precious, final, and perhaps greatest moments of my vacation.
"Four more exits to my apartment
But I am tempted to keep the car in drive
And leave it all behind"
- John Mayer
........ enjoys using big words.