In the first installment of this series, I wrote about the incredible wonder of feeling a car come to life beneath your fingertips, untold potential on tap with lightest touch of the throttle. It was a heady experience, where even going at parking lot speeds was enough to make me marvel at the feat of engineering that was the 2001 Honda Civic.
Yeah, that’s worn off.
And really, it’s a good thing, because driving a car and travelling in a car are two very different endeavours. Capital D Driving is adrenaline and visceral pleasure. It’s jinba ittai – horse and rider as one. It’s a quiet stretch of highway just outside of town. The sounds of the engine, the wind and the road melt into a symphony and you are the conductor.
Travelling in a car is a little Fast & Furious, and a little Mad Max: that same, familiar quickening of the pulse when your foot brushes against the gas pedal, but all tangled up in raw nerves and hyper-vigilance because people (and cars) can and do dart out in front of you like your vehicle is a particularly opaque mirage – which you accommodate with a fatalistic, nonchalant “Yep, I knew you were going to do that,” if anything at all, because apathy is in your bones.
Even worse though, is when you feel nothing at all. Instead of watching the road on the way home, you’ve caught the face of a neighbouring driver and you think, “10/10, would pretend to be their passenger and call CAA for them in case of an emergency.” Or you’re wondering if you left the oven on when you left for work this morning and if your homeowners insurance covers banana bread fires. In that moment, you might be in a base-model Tercel from the dark ages, but it might as well be a Rolls-Royce Phantom because nothing from the outside world is getting through to you.
And we’re not even talking about distracted driving. This is something we’re capable of all on our own, no cellphone required.
It happens to everyone – drivers, commuters, pedestrians – people fall into a routine and the motions become muscle memory. You might find yourself coming off the highway, sitting at a light, but, oh wait, you had dinner plans and were supposed to take the next exit. Or you’re standing in front of the fridge and suddenly realize you can’t recall a single detail about the drive home. It’s not Alzheimer’s or time travel, it’s just how your brain works. You’ve literally been down this road before and rather than paying attention to your command performance of “The Daily Commute”, you’re watching for differences between this instance and the last. And if you’re stuck in a long train of vehicles just waiting to sidle up to the next light… well, you check out. There are more pressing matters at hand, like the scores for the hockey game. Plus, if you have a car with radar-assisted cruise control, you could probably catch up on some Dostoyevsky.
I’ve had plenty of opportunity to play “follow the leader” during my driving lessons, but we don’t follow the same route every time, so I can’t drop into the blissful nothingness of autopilot. For me, there’s an initial pleasant simplicity to tailing the car in front. But after about five minutes or really thirty seconds, that pulsing, stop-go traffic quickly turns into a claustrophobic prison and that hands-at-ten-and-two zen evaporates and the radio is suddenly a chorus of chainsaws and wailing schoolchildren. As a survival tactic, my brain has on various occasions proposed such helpful diversions as: Is it possible to have lunch, dinner and supper? Who’s Jon Snow’s mother? If you take off in a strong enough headwind, do you become airborne but travel backwards?
They say hell is other people. When you’re trapped in gridlock, that certainly seems to be the case: fire, check; brimstone, check; speed demon sitting in your blind spot and poking into your lane every three seconds, check. I don’t know why people feel the need to pass in front of other cars when all lanes are travelling at the same, excruciatingly glacial pace. Many a time, I’ve watched some errant sport coupe snake back and forth between lanes, accomplishing nothing but delaying everyone behind them, and wondered why I do this, why anyone does this.
The perfume and promise of the open road. The rumble and purr of a mechanical beast. That’s why.
Now if I can just make it past this intersection…