Sometimes when I’m driving, I feel this overwhelming sense of community. We are all here, trying to get there and for the most part, it kind of works. I start thinking about who is listening to the same radio station as me, and if they are happy with radio jockey’s lukewarm choices that morning. Are we all tapping our fingers to The Bangles and singing O-wai-O in unison because it’s the only part of Walk Like An Egyptian we actually know?
It can feel extremely isolating sometimes to be on this human journey until I wake up and see that everyone is going my way. And we have some mediocre music to listen to as we drive.
I got a speeding ticket. Not even one year out of the gates and I got a speeding ticket. Oh my God. In my defense it was a speed trap on the descending portion of a hill right after a speed limit change but still. Bam.
Now I am several hundreds of dollars poorer and I don’t speed. Not ever. If it’s 35mph on a four lane road that is completely and painfully open, I go 35pmh. If it’s 65mph on the interstate and cars are blowing past me, I hold my spot in the right most lane and dawdle along at what is actually an insane speed. School zones, go ahead and ride my ass, I am going 25mph while I obsessively scan for children. And I will break for squirrels.
In a weird way, I am grateful for this ticket. It gave me permission to calm down and just go the posted speed limit. I think life hands us speeding tickets all the time: illnesses, setbacks, moldy bread we were planning on eating....anything that generally makes our plans going awry. These are reminders that it is okay to slow down and enjoy the drive. And if we can't enjoy it, then at least we can get through it with a few less splattered insects on our actual and metaphorical windshields.
There’s a suggested driving etiquette that slower vehicles keep to the right. At some point, the rumour was spread that it is actually the eleventh commandment. Moses himself wants you to speed up or move the fuck over.
One day while driving on the terrifying Interstate, I see a dawdling Honda CRV getting its ass ridden so tightly by a Dodge Charger that it makes me think about the question of consent. The Charger then swerves into my lane, speeds ahead of the CRV, swings back in front of it only to slam on its breaks before shooting over three lanes to its exit on the right. The driver of the Charger was so infuriated by the mildly inconsiderate behavior on the part of the CRV driver that he felt justified in endangering both of their lives and anyone else in that aura of crazy. He wanted to prove a point and to make sure that the CRV driver knew what a piece of shit he was for dallying along in the left lane at only 10mph over the posted speed limit.
My heart was pounding. That could have gone so badly so quickly. Thankfully we all made it out of that unscathed but it had me considering this insane habit we have as humans of trying to correct one another. What cost are we willing to pay to make another person realize that we are right and they are wrong?
There will never be any winners at driving. Not really. Maybe the person who cut me off was a total douchebag or maybe I should have gotten my head out my ass when I right-on-red turned when I totally shouldn’t have. But these are mistakes or oversights, and are insignificant validation to wager life and limb. I personally enjoy not pissing through a catheter or eating my calories through a permanently implanted tube in my gut. I am still on board with my ability to walk independently.
This lesson from the road doesn’t need the threat of paralysis or death to be easily applicable to our everyday lives. During interactions with strangers, friends and family we need to constantly ask ourselves when that rage monster bares its fangs: How much does it really matter? And pretty much all of the time, once we have had a chance to make some space for the feels, we will readily say that most of this shit does not matter as much as the physical and emotional safety of ourselves and others.
I have always taken everything extremely seriously. Every decision is gut twisting mental and emotional acrobatics. I don’t think this is particularly unique as far as human experiences go but one of the ways this analysis paralysis manifested for me was a bit on the less common side: I refused to drive.
I was convinced that getting behind the wheel meant that I would probably kill someone. This is a valid concern that I took more as inevitable than possible. So I just didn’t drive. When I finally traded in that expired learner’s permit for permanent identification, I had come to a delicious acceptance of my phobia. I no longer felt ashamed that I didn’t drive and I didn’t try to hide it. I really owned it and at that point there was no pressing reason to have a driver’s licence. I didn’t own a car. I didn’t need a car. I didn’t want a car. I did occasionally feel like a useless toddler when other people had to man the wheel on road trips. Thankfully I have amazing friends and family that couldn’t of given a shit if I knew how to drive a car or man the space station (except you dad, you have been a complete dick about the no driving thing the entire time).
And then I moved to North Carolina.
There is next to no public transportation in North Carolina. Everything is spread out. According to civil engineers, sidewalks are optional and, according to everyone else, crosswalks are mere suggestions. This is a place built for drivers. And if I was going to have any kind of a life here, I now needed to drive.
Driving was something I just assumed I would never do. Now I do it every day and my apprehension around it has evolved. And while I am grateful that I can drive, I am also equally grateful that I waited until now to do it. As I get older, I become friendlier towards myself. I am also more reflective now, rather than reactive. The passionate yet intense energy of my teens and twenties has mellowed and I feel as though I can see straighter. I see driving as this contradiction in that its simplicity has made a complete fustercluck out of our society but it also means I can buy candy at all hours. I am grateful for this skill rather than trapped by it.
I am not sure when the road will have run out of life lessons for me but right now, and I am listening. Please enjoy the occasional subsequent essay pasted together from my asphalt classroom notes.