On driving

Posted on: November 8, 2015

It’s amazing to me how many people want immediately to get in a car with you when, as a grown person, you get behind the wheel for the first time over two decades. Granted, it was actually only 2 people, one of whom was my niece who, as I surely did at 13, probably understands driving as an automatically successful undertaking for every adult, rather than a strangely unnatural thing that has to be learned and practiced. The other was a new coworker, whose enthusiasm for a potential carpool is unflagging even after the short test drive around campus that I insisted upon, and during which she remained vocally supportive even though, by the clench of her fists around the door handle, she seemed maybe a little bit terrified.

But the most immediately striking thing about driving after such a long time, apart from the shocking lack of care supportive people can have for their own safety, is how boring it is. This, apparently, is not a fully appropriate response to share with more experienced drivers who text you, on your second day of driving in 2 decades, to find out how it’s going; as each immediately replied that, sure, driving is rather dull, but there are enough benefits to make the boredom worthwhile.

With this, I can not argue. The immediate convenience of driving is irrefutable. In less than 24 hours of car ownership, I went from someone who would happily walk upwards of 30 minutes to get to the store, to a person who drove from one store to another within the same parking lot because it suddenly made sense to do so. Whereas I had always understood the thrill of finding a parking spot under challenging circumstances, getting the closest spot possible had always struck me as some petty concern, unless it was raining; but now, its utmost importance in all weather is perfectly clear.

I also, in those same 24 hours, went from someone who spent 2 hours getting home from work and had to order prescription cat food online to a person who could stop at the vet along the way and still get home in about 35 minutes. The apparently primal need to get the closest parking spot possible is indeed a small price to pay to be able to reliably and efficiently feed one’s kitten.

So of course, there are benefits to driving. But after so many years being chauffeured by the MBTA, it is a difficult adjustment to realize that, even though I’ll always get a seat, I cannot as a driver just sit back and read while I cruise effortlessly to work. I mean, I could technically do that, but I probably wouldn’t be able to finish as much as a chapter before my ride came to an abrupt and radically unscheduled stop. Similarly, as much as I might like to lean my head against the window and watch the scenery whiz by in this strange new place I live in, or close my eyes at the end of a long day, I instead have kept my eyes on the road itself, which is remarkable only in its similarity to the road in every other place I’ve ever been.

However, while I don’t get to enjoy the scenery as much as I had hoped, one unexpected pleasure of driving is the confident self-righteousness that comes from being the person everyone passes on the highway. The conviction that comes from traveling at the speed at which I am comfortable while you, all of you, are speeding is very satisfying. Not that I’m judging other drivers, mind you; unless they’re passing on a curve – that’s unsafe for me, too. Overall, though, I’d much prefer everyone hurry on toward their destination and leave me all the road to myself.

But what has stood out the most since beginning driving is not just how boring it is, nor how, and this is surely old news to everyone but me,  Taylor Swift is literally always playing somewhere on the radio; I’m  sure her ubiquity is well-earned, but, even at this very late date, I have to point out that t-shirts and short skirts are not mutually exclusive garments and thus are not drawing as clear a distinction as Ms. Swift imagines. Unless maybe it’s some issue with waxing she’s obliquely referring to? Probably not, though.

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right – the most startling lesson of driving is that driving, it turns out, is very lonely.

It’s not like, in the past 20 of not driving, I haven’t been in a car at all; I have, been in many cars in that time. Which sounds like the sort of thing an alien might say to convince you of his humanity, but that doesn’t make any less true. But the point is that for 2 decades, cars meant something social; getting into a car was the beginning of an adventurous undertaking to a greater or lesser degree; whereas now, the car is merely a means to perform errands – go to store, go to the work, go home.

I’m sure as I get more comfortable driving and more used to exploring all of the places that are out of walking distances, the car will feel less like a chore and will begin again to fill its old role as conduit for adventure. But, even as the stress of driving has withered a bit over the past two weeks, the car right now is primarily a reminder that, Ms. Swift’s crooning aside, that I’m going to be the only one in it for a while. And while that’s certainly safer and less stressful for everyone, it’s different than what I’m used to; different, and not really an improvement.


3 Responses to "On driving"

Very funny. It is only boring because you aren’t driving on paved over cow paths or with drivers who don’t use their turn signals. May you find a way to play your music in the car safely.

It’s true that driving outside of Boston is much less of an adventure than I’ve come to expect. I actually cut someone off on my first day merging onto the highway, and they only tapped their horn lightly to let me know. I’m sure up in MA I would have been run off the road. 🙂

[…] as a driver, too. I nod along with the other drivers when they decide to pass me (because, it bears repeating, I’m not going to go any faster no matter how close you get); I graciously allow other people […]

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