In the relative silence where my kids were entertaining each other and the radio lost its signal about an hour out of town, I thought a lot. It was just me and the open road. (And a few thousand cars and semi’s going somewhere between 70, the posted speed limit, and 90 miles per hour on a two-lane stretch that s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d almost to eternity.)
I remembered road trips where my dad would “talk” to truckers in the language of cars. Later, I thought it was cool that I could signal 18-wheelers to let them over or send a ‘thank you’, in return, by flashing my brights once. I used to warn people with headlights on, headlights off, signaling that there was a cop ahead, waiting. We nodded or waved. We adjusted our speed. We made room for each other. But driver’s etiquette has gone the way of the dinosaur.
In almost-forgotten days, it was customary to drive in the slow lane on the right, only changing to the fast lane in order to pass a car. Then back to the cruising lane.
This past weekend, and other trips down the same highway, almost all the cars traveled in the fast lane, without ever moving over. Even when there were an endless trail of cars behind them. Everybody wanted to be fastest. When I did approach a semi and need to pass, cars didn’t want to let me over, like the game ‘red rover, red rover ‘ where one kid tries to break a chain of kids holding hands, and all the other kids try to stop her.
I also thought about how cars are an extension of ourselves, from the type of cars we’re attracted to (think mini-van vs. SUV) to unconsciously expanding our personal space to include the car. Opening our personal space is how we can weave gracefully through traffic, adjust mentally to merge into traffic, and know whether we can fit into a parking space. Our cars become a part of our selves, like shoes molding to the shape of our feet. I thanked Puppy, my last car, for 9 safe years before trading him in; and now I have Buck, whom I ‘cheered’ over the grapevine.
The trip home, just two days later, was in daylight (and 90 degrees). I noticed and started to count burned areas on the side of the road in the bush. I started pointing them out to my kids, as I wondered if they were caused by cigarette butts flung carelessly out the window, or if, indeed, they were proof of the bad habits of drivers. I fear the latter. I counted at least 12 places where a car had probably gone off the road and caught fire. I don’t ever remember seeing that before. For such a boring, flat highway, it sure does offer an element of…risk.
As my kids said, when they got off Autopia in Disneyland, “See, Mama, I can drive. It’s not that hard.”
Maybe if it were ‘just me and the road’.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.