Cars are archaic deathmobiles. Am I the only one left to wonder why such a technologically-evolved civilization as ourselves hasn’t gotten beyond the gas-guzzling, rage-inspiring, congested art of driving? I was raised in an All-American household that loved all-American cars. Both of my grandfathers ran their own garages and my father was a body mechanic who later became an insurance adjuster, spending eight hours a day driving all over the state to look at damaged vehicles. He always chides that bad weather and idiot drivers guarantee his job security. He’ll be the first to brag about the twenty-five plus years on the road that had nary an accident (until this year when he had three in two weeks), but that long ago accident left him with a life-long limp and excuse to never work-out and left his firstborn child (yours truly) with an early memory of seeing her daddy all banged up in the hospital. Oddly enough, though I was scarcely a toddler, I still remember the day of his accident with foggy emotions of terror as my great aunt babysat me, clinging to my tiny body in panic upon receiving the news. But once I turned 16, my attitude towards driving embraced “live free or die” in the truest sense. I wanted freedom more than anything. The piles of Polaroids of totaled cars strewn across the dining room table each night from my father’s day at work had to become a distant memory because I was not going to walk five miles into town when I couldn’t find a ride.
But my days driving were briefly lived. I got my license at 16 and moved to New York City less than a year later. Short of the year I spent in Los Angeles, where driving culture reigns, and two cross-country trips I have gladly embraced public transportation and walking. As the years wore on, I began to accept fewer bookings that required renting cars and touring and in doing so, I’ve faded from the confident, brazen driver that I once was. And the same thing has occurred with my circle of friends. In fact, I now think most occasions there needs to be a financial offering to get me behind the wheel of a car. I now loathe driving. I get in the back seat of a car and I have to focus on anything to avoid from getting car sick. Last November I drove a stretch of the New York State Thruway, a route that I was happily blazed through because it bridged my small town to a shopping mall and dense population. But this time I was struck in absolute terror. Nothing feels natural to me about driving 70 MPH, constantly looking out for the moron weaving in and out of traffic in his souped-up Beamer, or the moron who thinks he/she can text and chat on the phone and simultaneously stay in the lane. I tried to breath deeply, chat to myself, blast music, find my Eckhart Tolle-calm, but nothing could replace my terror-filled thoughts. I had lost the ability to zone out and just enjoy the experience of being in control. I didn’t want to be in control. I wanted to be relaxing in the back of a bus, perusing a copy of New York Magazine with earbuds in my ears, knowing that we were in the biggest ride on the road.
Last weekend I was upstate again, where I’m constantly shuttled around in a car as I so conveniently always forget to bring my glasses (which may or may not be legally required for me to drive) and I dreaded every moment in the car. I was more than happy to bring my dog as a distraction from the winding roads, the near-misses of other bad drivers, and the anxiety of sitting in traffic heading back to the city on a Sunday night. I started resenting my parents for living so far away from a train station run by public transit (since the assholes at Amtrak forbid pets on their trains). I obsessively used Google maps on my iPhone to calculate walking directions, offering at one point to walk the 3.5 miles home from a friend’s barbecue. This came as no surprise to my parents, who came to Atlantic City on my birthday and in honor of my birthday wishes jumped a concrete highway barricade and walked two miles to a neighboring casino because getting their car from the eighth floor of a garage seemed like a waste of time to me. And they could use the exercise.
While I know our culture (and even I tend to agree) is very keen on overcoming anxieties and being fearless, there’s a part of me that thinks we have fear and anxiety for a good reason. Cars are dangerous. They are expensive, they are terrible for the environment, and take away from the exercise we get from walking, bicycling or even taking the subway and running up and down a few dozen stairs at each station. I know in rural areas it’s not feasible to just give up your car, and that given the health of most Americans, walking three or four miles is impractical. But why don’t we come up with a better way of getting around? Cars cannot be the answer for the long term. I think we’ll become too lazy and keen on multi-tasking to have time for just “driving” from A to B. The sooner, the better.
(Let it be know that immediately proceeding the writing of this blog my boyfriend and I took our second only rental car adventure to Connecticut and I found myself speeding along the random highways at night to pick him up from Foxwoods after I spent the day in Mystic. And since he had irritated me ever so slightly, my driving anxiety was completely gone. So apparently I just need to be mad when driving to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.)