There was a time when I drove mostly at night. It was summer, the nights were cooler and the roads were always empty. The 92 Cherokee with 200,000 miles on it I drove in those days had an unreliable air conditioner and an even crappier radio. Having the windows opened passed the time and kept me from passing out. I remember a lot of those drives across the Colorado Southern Plains, the foothills, the New Mexican desert.
And, I was young. So much of everything was still new to me.
In the early chapters of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig waxes on the reasons one should take highways by motorcycle. He muses that a car is nothing more than a series of frames – the windshield, the windows. And that frame sets the drivers and passengers into the mindset of watching a television. There is inside, and there is out there. You are not in the landscape, just passing through it. A motorcycle absolves that. The motorcycle also forces you to take roads that are not the interstate – which is frequently lethal, and see open parts of the country and visit gas stations with stories and diners with specials.
That was the 60s. Traveling by motorbike might have changed a lot since.
I live in the city and read a lot from bike poets who know what it is to experience a city by bicycle. There is nothing between them and the road, the storefronts, the people, the drivers, the pulse of the city that they want to love even though it is usually out to kill them.
This morning a truck parks on the curb out front. The driver rolls down his window and tosses the cigarette butt, still smoldering, out into the street. Another driver, one hand on the wheel and the other looking towards, but not quite at, the phone in her hand.
It is amazing what a few panes of glass can do to how we perceive the world.
A windscreen makes us feel invincible.
A smartphone puts a safe distance between us and the opinions of others.
Whether we enjoy that coffee shop today depends on how the parking situation is.
Car culture is easy, but it makes all other culture next to impossible.