The Driving Spectrum

On the three hour drive from Brooklyn to Providence on Saturday evening, I discovered a vital aspect of my personality, and possibly uncovered the greatest method of self discovery that the world is well aware of. When driving alone for more than an hour, a full spectrum of emotions reveal themselves. Everything feeling, every reaction becomes intensified and fully portrayed – as if we were actors on stage.

I have spent late nights driving in a car sans music, pondering the meaning of life. The very first time I drove alone, I put Baba O’Reilly (thanks, Matt, for calling me out on incorrectly calling it Teenage Wasteland earlier – guess my teenage wasteland years are sadly behind me) on full volume and zipped out of my suburban driveway yelling the lyrics and swerving around the neighborhood.

When  high school girlfriend broke up with me, I cruised along a desolate route 2 at midnight, sobbing to myself, hammering the steering wheel, bruising my fists. On a drive from Providence to New Haven about a year ago, at dusk, I witnessed the most stunning sunset I have ever seen, and proceeded to chronicle it with my iPhone, which led to more than a few swerves and close calls to the guard rail. It was worth it – every time I turned a corner or crested a hill, it would get better and better. I couldn’t settle for the previous shot.

Here’s one that doesn’t even do it justice

On my drive from New York to Providence on saturday, I spent three solid hours singing at the top of my lungs, to no one but myself.

The great thing about being alone and acting obnoxious is that you can actually show off to strangers. It’s like when you’re at a bar and your friend tells you, what’s the worst that could happen, you’ll never see him/her again. Well, when you’re driving in a car, there’s no reason not to belt out Piano Man, or Party in the USA to yourself and look strangers in the eye as you do it. Because in 99,999 cases out of 100,000, you will actually never see that person again. That even seems improbable.

I believe there is no better place to discover oneself than in this cage of steel and glass (and ok, leather seats). If you are with a friend, polite conversation is obligatory – perhaps you will sing together or discuss lewd topics, but you are limiting yourself in one way or another. Perhaps you need a long period of silence to mull over the day – or life – or your friend will never look at you the same way when s/he hears you trying to hit that note in Rolling in the Deep.

I love to drive. I used to drive to and from school three or four days a week in high school. It was a 45 minute drive with minimal traffic (24 was my record time, as I raced home to make curfew). Those drives would be accompanied by NPR’s late night jazz and questions of the future. Sometimes the morning commute was classic rock or football talk, always getting me excited for Sunday’s games. Route 2 is a prime example of New England foliage, so beyond my radio fix, my wonton need to sing karaoke in the car or get metaphysical with myself, nature was always abundant. If I truly felt inspired by the leaves, Thoreau’s Walden was never far away. No, I do not mean the book – the pond was, and is, quite literally across route 2 from my school. A lovely place to escape.

But I digress.

Those 40 minute drives were one thing, but longer periods of isolation truly explain character. If this argument seems completely unfounded, and you are mocking my immaturity – I will concede, camping alone in the woods is probably far more of a personal challenge than highway driving. Driving is what I would call the modern man’s escape. It is something that we all (or many of us) do, or have done at some point in life. Yes, it requires a car (for me, cars borrowed), but nothing else. Just one’s full attention, a growling stomach or an excruciatingly full bladder can yield unexpected results.

This entry has rambled and repeated itself, but I think that is only a reflection of the way we (maybe it’s just me) think when driving.

And don’t let me discourage you from partnered road trips. I have fond memories of a two man road trip in which Joe and I sang the entirety of Billy Joel’s Essential CD set from Boston to Maine. And the time we packed five grown men into a two door Honda coupe. With no air conditioning. In June, when it was 95 degrees out.

Perhaps the feeling of traveling and witnessing the progress excites me, makes me appreciate our ability to move at this speed. Just fast enough to make all corners of the country accessible, but slow enough to notice the changing scenery. The car allows me to chronicle the spectacle of life, where the road leads, and speculate where I’ll wind up. But the lonely traveler is never alone with his thoughts and his words.

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