The Zen of Driving

I’m sort of ashamed of myself for this, but the fact of the matter is that having had a car for the weekend has made me realize how much I missed having one. How I’ve managed eight months without going insane is somewhat unclear, and I was very reluctant to return the keys. I’d forgotten the pure and simple joy of driving a good car, I really had.

You see, I have two driving styles. My friends may make fun of me, but I have a cleaner record than any of them, with no tickets or accidents to my name. For that matter, most people are comfortable driving with me and think of me as a safe, reliable driver. Heh.

When I have passengers, it’s about getting safely and efficiently from point a to point b, some mellow music on the stereo, having a good time, maybe getting lost, stopping for lunch. The car ride is part of the adventure, but not the whole of it. Driving with people is not a time to prove my machismo, or display my abilities, because there’s too much going on.

Alone, however, it’s more about professional driver: closed course. Do not attempt. It’s about knowing and respecting the limitations of myself and my vehicle, but exploring our boundaries. It’s about the unity between car and driver, the pure focus, the loud electronica on the stereo. It’s about pushing yourself to drive better and more beautifully than ever before.

For me, driving alone on a challenging road is one of the few joys in my life. It’s the one thing that is guaranteed to fill my heart with glee, to leave a smile on my face which lingers for the rest of the day. I love the intensity, the fact that in those moments, I’m doing one thing and one thing only: living as one with my car, finely attuned to its movements and needs. I’m the sort of person who prefers to focus on doing one task really well, and I’m rarely allowed to do it. Driving alone allows me to indulge this side of my personality which is rarely satisfied.

About half the luxury car commercials you see on television are filmed on Highway 128, which happens to be part of the route I take to get to Fort Bragg from San Francisco. It’s a very pretty road, and it’s very very enjoyable to drive when you’re at the helm of a quality piece of machinery.

Unfortunately, the thing that makes it joyful for me is the same thing that make it frustrating, and that’s the unique quality of the road. 128 sweeps in a series of curves across the Anderson Valley before delivering you at the coast line. It’s exhilarating. And it’s maddening when you are trapped behind someone who cannot drive the road as well as you can, especially when you’ve driven it hundreds of times and are more intimately familiar with it than you are with your own house.

Please, readers, for those not aware: moving aside for traffic isn’t only common courtesy, it’s the law in California if you have five or more cars stuck behind you. Driving is not about teaching other people lessons and imposing your own morality on other drivers. It’s about getting yourself where you want to go in the mode that is most comfortable. If for you that means complying with the speed limit and tootling along the road, that’s fine. But it would be great, no, awesome, if you could pull over for people who are more comfortable at a higher rate of speed. It’s not about judgement, it’s about making the road function for everyone. It’s about not depriving me of my joy and still feeling safe in your own bubble, and it’s about respecting those with greater abilities, better cars, and more familiarity than you–we all do it.

Generally, when driving 128 I find myself pulling over once or twice for faster drivers, having 15 or more cars pull over for me, and being forced to pass about five assholes who will not comply with the basic rules of the road. (Who in turn probably curse and call me an asshole as I sweep by them, “Rollercoaster” by Lunatic Calm blaring on the stereo.) This was about par for the course driving up to Fort Bragg, and I was only forced to lean on the horn once when an incredibly slow old man passed the second turnout in a row (right after the sign that says “Slower Vehicles Must Pull Over to Permit Passing”.)

I’m not sure what it is about driving that brings out the intensely feral animal in me, but I dig it. Especially after driving in the city all weekend, I tend to be amped up and 128 is a great way to wind down, in an odd sense. I may have to maintain a car again, even with the high price of gas: it’s almost worth it to me to have my meditation tool back. I always feel refreshed, focused, and clear after driving, much like my hippie friends claim they feel after sitting in meditation. It’s true that all of us have different ways of reaching within, feeling the abyss, and returning renewed: apparently my way is found through the automobile.


One Reply to “The Zen of Driving”

  1. I am so with you on the joys of driving. I’ve long thought of Comptche-Ukiah Road as my own personal Disneyland ride. The funny thing is, after we took the kids to Disneyland for the first time when they were about 4 and 7, on our first trip into town after getting back home, the older one commented that, gee, this feels like a Disneyland ride and for the first time ever, asked me to slow down! They got over that pretty quick.

    I don’t know what to do about the people who won’t pull over. It makes me nuts. Who would want to drive down a beautiful road with somebody riding your tail, oozing frustration and resentment at your selfishness? Pull over, for crying out loud, then we can all relax and enjoy the ride. Most of the time though, people are pretty good. I avoid Friday afternoons, weekends and holidays, though, when I possibly can.

    As for the car ownership problem, maybe you can do a share with a few people?

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