It is no secret that I am fond of driving, of sitting behind the wheel of a car and entering that trancelike state of focus and subconscious action and watching the countryside whir by. Driving makes everything feel right, because you are free to think deeply without feeling idle or aimless. Sitting on the couch thinking about one sentence you said a year prior feels lazy and self-flagellating; running over that line until it smooths like a river rock while driving is to be expected. Driving allows for stillness and motion simultaneously. Much like my other favorite thing to do (cycling), it involves tactility and skill and motion but also leaves large sections of the brain still and free to do deep, uninterrupted thinking.
The last few weeks I drove a lot, though it did not lead to any grandiose payoff or Instagram-worthy vista. Instead, I visited my sister in Tennessee and took a preposterously circuitous route home, touching the states that many Americans believe nobody should ever willingly visit. I ate Indian food in Bowling Green, Kentucky and laid my head just across the river from Ohio, drank coffee there and headed on to Indiana. I was absolutely alone and invisible, with distant destinations and a conditioned craving for caffeine motivating me onward. This is one of my favorite feelings, when solitude is a pleasant adventure instead of a prison sentence, when space and time take on somewhat different meanings and you can wake up in a motel that seemingly exists solely for illicit activity, take coffee in a revitalized post-industrial urban core during a blizzard, stop for gas in the sort of area where highway exits are ten miles apart, and eat an early dinner in a vibrant international neighborhood in Saint Louis.
When you have to get somewhere, there is little of that vague space between to doubt yourself or sit in spiraling dread. There is no dark grey cloud following you wherever you go, because as the highway miles pass by, you drive into and out of the grey clouds and the sunshine, through the flat farmland and into the imposing cities, over the mountains and under the tunnels. It reminds me that those things which seem insurmountable fixities are quite relative; that the weather which may overpower us with seasonal affectation is different somewhere else, that a lonely day in Arkansas could be a café full of new and promising faces in Memphis. Many accuse me of running away from my problems, but I think I am just interested in constantly remembering that there is more out there.
To forget that would be to settle.
To forget that would be to give up.
Instead, I let the spectrum of thoughts work their way across my mind as the miles roll by. Five hours in the car is five hours to think without consequence, to contemplate without being counterproductive. And counterproductive as it may be, I cannot live a day of life without thinking deeply about all my mistakes and all those fleeting moments of summer sunshine and laughter amongst now defunct places, amid friendships that are dead and gone. I have been told repeatedly that it is odd to hear the name of Haruka Weiser, the University of Texas student who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a homeless man with a hammer in downtown Austin in 2016, in my mind on a daily basis. I never knew her, but I was living my underwhelming life less than a mile from her horrific death, and the details struck me in a very particular way. I have been told that it doesn’t make sense that I haven’t been on a single date in X amount of months (or is it years?), but nobody seems to be disgusted by the slimy and self-serving sexual ethic that seems to swarm around us and threatens to undermine human relationships at large. When I am sautéing another dinner for one while Mipso plaintively harmonizes on the small Bluetooth speaker in the other room, these thoughts seem to jeer at me like an enlightened and worldly Greek Chorus, remarking gleefully at how naïve and ill-adjusted I am. When I am pedaling or driving towards the horizon, these thoughts seem less like a malevolent score to the quotidian motions of survival and more like meaningful grappling with the issues which are supposed to haunt and define us. If we are not disturbed, what are we? If we are not lonely in a room full of people who do not know us, when are we ever actually satisfied?
Of course I don’t want to talk to another generically kind guy about mountain bikes and Telecasters only to never see him again. Of course I don’t want to exchange another smile and soul-piercing double take with another beautiful woman I’ll never see again. No I do not want to make all the wrong decisions about cryptocurrency in feeble efforts to make my shitty contract writing money go further.
But I would rather do these things than change who I am just to quit feeling piquant lack. The short and loaded conversations I have with my friends scattered like map dots across the country remind me that there is profound merit to feeling and to being, to remaining committed to that which makes us who we are instead of numbly assimilating into that which we are not. The most violent loneliness is preferable to the most numb and superficial sense of inclusion; like a blizzard in Indianapolis, that feeling is real and palpable and will yield to something different, if only you keep driving.
The feeling of being somewhere easy and familiar melts away much of the apprehension and friction of an anchorless life, but it offers few of the intrinsic rewards of blazing a path. It is radically tempting to put the cards on the table and say well, I made a good run of it, but now it’s time to quit my fighting and start ‘getting serious’ about things. Lord knows I feel that temptation because it would be nice to buy another old Porsche and at least have something interesting to drive around in while I think my spectrum of thoughts. It would be great to appear to have it together enough to capture the attention of the potential friends who don’t think me a true peer because they do not understand what I do for work or the women who don’t think me a promising provider because I own zero watches and freelance writing has no upward mobility.
But where does one draw the line? Where does doing things to achieve a facsimile of the happiness of others become a bigger affront to happiness itself than a million days spent swimming in the middle of the water table, afflicted with vertigo and unsure which way is up? Right now, I know what keeps me up at night. If I had it all, then what would I blame? It is terrible and wonderful to experience life without the helpful distractions like a plethora of relationships and an attendance-based job schedule to keep the complex thoughts at bay. Living this way both mentally and situationally robs you of the usual fodder for small talk and inclusion which our culture relies on to operate smoothly. I don’t have an office to bitch about or coworkers to go to suburban trivia nights with. Maybe I would be a better member of society if I did. But since I do not, I am free to go on long drives. And somewhere out there along the long white line, I find words for the thoughts that would not be welcomed elsewhere.