Freedom of the Open Road

I like to drive. I donʼt think I have actually acknowledged this pastime previously, but itʼs true (“as true as horses that I shall never tire” — I wonder if I got that allusive quotation correct…). Janet and I were reminiscing about various driving experiences with her sister and brother-in-law over the weekend (some not repeatable here). Whether it was in…

  • Willie Faye (the blue VW Beetle my father essentially let me drive most of the time in early college years),
  • or the old ʼ56 Ford that didnʼt need a key to start it (fortunately on several occasions),
  • a beaten old Chevrolet boat (my brother Paulʼs car, loaned to me while he was a resident student in Spain for the 1975-76 school year),
  • the worthless ʼ69 orʼ70 tan Beetle I bought for myself and smacked into a deer just over a year later,
  • my blue Econoline van,
  • the 1986 Ford Escort wagon (my only new vehicle, probably ever in my lifetime),
  • the fairly worthless 1989 Ford Ranger pickup I bought next and drove through the Nineties and into this millennium,
  • or my current 1998 white Nissan Frontier (the “Desert Runner” model that if truly named should never have been purchased by an old farmer from south of Galena to tool around this area in),
  • or any of Janetʼs various vehicles that she has permitted or required me to drive (or those of previous girlfriends, too),

Oh, the irony, for those who click the pic (thinking of Connie Willis and “The Last of the Winnebagos”)

…driving has been a pleasant experience, usually, that I will miss when the gasoline/crude oil supply runs out. We Americans seem thoroughly uninterested, in a genuine and therefore behavior-modifying manner, in releasing the teat of fossil fuels and overcoming our addiction to petroleum.

I am not keen on winter driving, mistrusting myself on ice but also deep and heavily falling snow. Unlike most people, I donʼt mind driving in fog, even in places unfamiliar (I, however, do turn on my headlights — not for myself but all those other drivers headed at me) or, as I did heading up to Cedar Rapids recently with Kevin, in heavy rain (only a few times, ironically — or predictably — near Rochester, MN, have I been forced to pull over in blinding downpours). And living in the Midwest, I am not proficient (or particularly comfortable) with mountainous drives, although I have had wonderful times on old Highway 1 along the California coastline (of which, however, I havenʼt driven more than about ninety minutes to two-hours distance out of San Francisco), so it may be simply my fear of heights that intimidated me in Colorado.

Anyway. I was thinking about the pleasures of driving as I headed up to Dubuque yesterday morning for my semiregular escape from home while it gets cleaned. The day was brightly sunny, and ensconced within the air-conditioned confines of the Frontierʼs extended cab, comfortable (outdoors was another story, although I think overall Wednesday was slightly cooler or less humid than Monday and Tuesday had been, or else my hours in air-conditioning helped me stand the afternoon and evening in the actual weather). Highway 61, four-laned for years now between Davenport and Dubuque, may be a dull drive nowadays, but itʼs still pretty, rolling up and down the countryside and peering up the country lanes that extend off on the sides (more pleasurable for knowing and also not knowing what lies down those apparently — but deceptively in this riverine territory — arrowlike routes). I was also thinking about topics on which I could write for the blog, so notice how promptly my brief meditation on the road has turned into a post.

I am not sure what I enjoy about driving so much. I usually donʼt drive very fast, so the pleasures of the countryside are more visible and enjoyable for me than otheer more tensed and aggressive drivers, such as The Lovely One herself. I also donʼt usually face much traffic (notice I havenʼt once discussed city driving, a form of spirit-rending torture I assume is continued in any number of the circles of Hell — commuters being exemplars for me of what is wrong about capitalism and greed or selfishness in general: just observe your own reactions to others and their vicious self-promotion on the overcrowded roadway and generalize from those behaviors to ponder the theoretical principles of any “free market”). In fact, 61 north of Maquoketa probably doesnʼt support enough traffic to really be four lanes, however pleasant it is to cruise the nearly empty freeway. (And I commented yesterday on Janetʼs reactions to the nearly constant bilane flood of teeming automotive corpuscles pulsing competitively toward that urban heart, Milwaukee, on Friday afternoon.)

I think what I like most is the sensibility of being in transit. I drive along in splendid isolation (thank you, Warren Zevon, for that phrase), attuned to my music, freely contemplating everything and anything, distracted only minimally and infrequently by the rigors of piloting a speeding ton and a half of metal and semiflexible petroleum-based chemical byproducts. My soul soars. Although the acquisition of a cell phone has changed my outlook a bit, I enjoy being suspended between home and other obligations ahead. Other drivers ruthlessly intervening between me and my freewheeling solitude make urban or other overloaded driving a gut-churning chore in itself, banishing ruminative reverie. A pleasant rural drive liberates the spirit to fly freely and happily, especially on sunbrightened, temperate days. While in transit, there is nothing you can actually do about any of your regular duties, so you might as well relax and enjoy everything about the experience of being where you transitionally are, fully savoring each aspect of every evolving moment, liberated for the nonce from the rigors of responsibility.

At least, that is what I do.

Also, thatʼs generally why I so seldom recognize other cars or drivers furiously waving from our accustomed friendship at me — no snub or diminution of our normal relationship, just my temporary obliviousness of ordinary, unsparing and relentless reality.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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