Monday, September 8, 2014

Things you learn on the road

The right music will determine how you feel about the landscape around you – it will make the difference between tedium and rapture.

Talk radio and podcasts will render your surroundings mundane; avoid these.

Only rarely is a place so beautiful that it deserves to be driven through in absolute silence, but when it does – honor it. (You will know when this is called for.)

Always have toilet paper or a reasonable substitute in the car; napkins from a fast-food restaurant or gas-station convenience store are available in abundance. Especially if you’re driving where restrooms are few and far between, and could be lackadaisically tended.
You will learn to scoff at long lines for gas-station restrooms. Why wait in line when you can just grab some napkins and drive down the road? In wild places the sun can slide from one spot in the sky to another before any cars or eyes appear on the horizon to see you. The road is no place for prisses.

When pulling over to the side of the road to take a picture of dramatic scenery – slow down more than you think you need to. The difference between going 75 on a long straight road with no one on it and going 0 at a small pull-off point is more acute than your intuition might tell you while you’re still in motion. This is a lesson you can apply to the rest of your life as well.

Never get out of the car without your keys in your hand.

Never let the gas tank go lower than half full.

Cruise control is for suckers. You must be the one in control – to make hair’s-breadth adjustments in speed according to the unique slope and texture of the terrain beneath your wheels. Your right calf muscle is a rock, your toes are Arnold Schwarzeneggers. To feel the road beneath you and respond to it is to make love to it.

You will sing more soulfully than ever before when driving fast on an open road with no other cars on it. At these times you will sound better than you ever will with anyone around to hear you. This is a sad fact; accept it.

After a certain number of hours together on the road, you and your car become one – a single unified organism. You will know when you’ve pushed it (too fast up a steep hill, too far onto a rocky scramble masquerading as a legitimate pull-off point), and you will feel sorry when you do.

Your car appreciates it when you talk to it. It appreciates it even more when you assign it a gender – when you talk to him or her. Don’t feel ridiculous about this – think about the affection people in olden times had for their horses, and tell yourself it’s only a few steps along the evolutionary timeline from horses to cars.

If you don’t crack the window down for a few seconds every several hours, the stale oxygen in the car will make you go literally insane. This is science.

A photo taken from a moving car can turn out really cool, but this is a risky move not for amateurs.

No finely tuned orchestra on earth can compete with the perfect harmony, the complete and utter synchronicity, of you with the car when you’ve got an iPod plugged in, GPS pointing the way, the a.c. blowing but not hard enough to drown out music, a visor tucked down to eliminate glare, a bottle of iced coffee in the cup holder beside you and your lunch in your lap.

Certain functions of the car will remain a mystery to you, especially if you are driving a rental car. For example: the supposedly straightforward icons that tell you how to operate the headlights. Grapple with the knob, twist and grope blindly in frustration as the sun goes down, mutter and curse in consternation, but know – just like some people, the car prefers to remain a bit unknown.

In some places in the world – notably deserts – the sun and the car will conspire to cover you in slants and shafts of burning light, and no clever configuration of visors and no patchwork of wrinkled T-shirts on your lap will keep it from touching your skin. Let this happen; get a trucker tan or a trucker burn. There’s no use fighting it.

After several days on end of driving from sun up to sun down, walking will make you feel like a mermaid in Manhattan – no longer in your natural habitat.

Alone in a car, you can do these things freely: talk to yourself, laugh at your own jokes, sing, sing beyond your natural range, cry, scream, act ugly. A few days of this and the car starts to feel like your therapist – observing, not judging. Encouraging you, even.

You could sleep in a car if you had to. You could live in a car if you had to. You don’t want to – but you like knowing these things.

At the end of a long road trip with a rental car, it will be emotionally difficult to drop it off at the car-rental place. You will feel traitorous. You will thank the car; you will tell the car good-bye. You will try not to cry. You will remember what you thought earlier about how a car is just a few steps along the evolutionary timeline from a horse – and you will say, as if stroking a mane: “You were a good car… You were a good car...”

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