Another column I wrote recently:
I love the film “Drive.” There’s a lot to love about it: The synthesizer-heavy soundtrack, Albert Brooks playing a heavy, Ryan Gosling (ladies), Gosling’s satin baseball jacket, the cinematography, etc…
I like all that, but the title says it all. Deep down, I know I love “Drive” because of the cars, the chase scenes, the stunts, the act of driving. It’s precisely why I will tolerate, even secretly enjoy, ridiculously over-the-top movies such as “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Death Race.”
I’ve always enjoyed driving, and I suspect it’s due to childhood road trips with my family. In a country whose identity is so tied to Manifest Destiny and rugged individualism, a car, driving, represents independence. It represents potential and opportunity.
There’s something unmistakeably American about a road trip. One only has to look at American classics like “Easy Rider” or “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac where the road trip is raised to an almost mythical status.
That sort of reverence is possible because this country has the luxury of space. The great expanse of land we call home allows one to make a several-hour, or several-day, trip without running into the border of another nation. We can travel 3,000 miles, coast to coast, and still call where we end up home.
I made these observations later, not as a kid in the back of my parents’ Dodge minivan, by the way.
And I certainly appreciate driving in that context, but for me, more than anything, it represents peace. There are those that become discouraged at the thought of a long drive. They malign gas prices and traffic and tolls and say it will be “boring.”
But I see it as an opportunity to do something thinking and clear my head. It’s a chance to take in the landscapes of this country that have yet to be encroached upon by urban sprawl. Even if it’s just corn fields or soybean fields, you must admit it’s better than looking at strip mall. I’m not immune to complaining about traffic or bad drivers, but the feeling of hitting an open stretch of highway with no other cars in sight is a difficult feeling to duplicate.
There’s something calming about a breeze coming through the window, while Tom Petty wails from the stereo. It’s why a drive around the outskirts of Manhattan is my remedy for distraction. It’s what I seek when I’m too distracted by my phone, my TV or my computer. I trade my many digital devices for four wheels and asphalt.
Solitary reflection is great, but the camaraderie that comes from driving with friends cannot be understated. In high school, I worked for a photography company that specialized in team and individual photos for youth athletics with my brother and three friends. Youth leagues all over the Chicagoland area, and one or two from the northwest part of Indiana, hired the company. The drive was always the best part of the day.
Wrangling kids, and sometimes parents, and confirming orders all day was exhausting and often thankless work, but I’ll always remember the rides with my brother and friends—talking endlessly about music and video games, trying to make each other laugh, stopping for gas station lunches. When I venture home to visit family, we still tell those stories and will continue to.
And I will continue to add to those stories because, to quote Gosling’s mysterious character, “I drive.”