The Value of a Drive

For someone with only a passing interest in cars and a minimal understanding of their mechanical beauty, I love driving.  As long ago as my high school days, I remember drifting aimlessly around town with my best friend, an escape limited only by how much gas we were willing to put in the tank and our unwillingness to drive so far that we’d have to skip school the next day. In my first college years, cars were a rarity, but it was no coincidence that one friend with a car became a pseudo-therapist for our clique. With a mobile safe space, removed from the cramped university life where no conversation was safe from eavesdropping neighbors or interrupting roommates, he provided an unexpected safety net.  When I brought my own car to school, being able to escape campus under my own power, isolated from friends and strangers alike provided a comforting sense of freedom and autonomy.

Talking through and mulling over problems was easier behind the windshield, I found, whether from the drivers or passenger seat. Climate control, choice of music, a cigarette smoked out the window, all with the calming act of driving itself providing a distraction to free the subconscious— the ‘big mind’— from the chatter of everyday life: a car was the perfect isolated space to decompress without distraction. Five hour drives home from school were long but not despised, and road trips and bus rides offered essentially the same environment with admittedly less control over the details. I almost enjoyed being trapped on long drives, because I could switch off the chaos of life outside the automobile and focus on organizing my mental space.

Watching the change in scenery from the static inside of a vehicle is key. Too often, decisions and problems overwhelm us and time slips by while we try to decide on a course of action or fully grasp complex feelings.  The very knowledge that we’re wasting time paralyzes us and more precious moments pass us by. But on the other hand, everyone knows that when we’re waiting, or sitting stationary in a car, time slows. “Are we there yet?” “We’ve been driving forever!” “I don’t even know what day it is anymore.” We lose track of time despite the dashboard clock, which seems to progress at random intervals and speeds. But in the liminal space of the vehicle, cut off from the outside world, we are not dragged forward by time as we would be outside its doors. Time will catch up to us, or we to it, when we park the car, sigh, and take back the keys from the ignition – but for the duration of the trip, we’ve bought ourselves a bit of peace and quiet: a time to reflect without the pressure of time’s steady march, in a space where we can place our lives on hold, if we agree to sacrifice the time behind the wheel and jump back into the present at the journey’s end.