Friday, October 22, 2010

A Driving Song

There are many things I would rather do than drive.  Drinking Lysol is one of them.  Driving is a nuisance, a menial task that takes entirely too much time and costs too much money. Watching the traffic reports on the Atlanta interstates reminds me of the scene in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," where thousands of mindless, wordless people are crossing the bridge into the city.  And inside those cars, people are listening to their radios, to endless music with indeterminable meanings, to conservative talk show host rattling on truths and half truths and sometimes outright lies, all to mesmerize the listener into action.  Inside those cars are the children screaming or sleeping or playing, looking up out of the roof hatch up at the sky and dreaming they could fly, seeing themselves move through the clouds as the road moved under them.  I think REM got it exactly right in the video for "Everybody Hurts," as, in the end, they are all people trapped inside their cars, trapped inside the memories and the thoughts that can't escape, but sit, traveling as they are traveling, through miles of pavement.  The only real escape, as in the video, is to get out of the cars and walk.  Something totally unexpected.  To shout from the bridge and run the other way.  To say, "Snap out of it!" to the people on Eliot's bridge.  To get out and walk and never to look back.  Yes.  It's escape.  It's illogical and probably impossible, but you have to look at driving this way.   While most people see driving, much as in the car commercials, as getting away from your life and winding down twisted roads toward the mountains or the beach, leaving their lives behind, it doesn't always work that way.  For what if those people weren't able to leave themselves behind, like old laundry or the faded memories that appear and then dissolve away?  What if you have to bring yourself with you, with all the memories and the heartaches and the trials and troubles that have gathered and stuck to the underside of your mind like barnacles on a veteran ship?  Then it wouldn't matter how far you drove, or how loud the music was, it would still be the same you, driving down the same road.  And you would be waiting for you when you got there.  With the same problems, the same expectations. 

So you see why I don't like driving.  But sometimes.... oh yes, sometimes.  When driving down the interstates at the end of the evening, during the twilight hours, there is this temptation.  To, as John Mayer would say, to keep the car and drive. To pass the exits of home and just keep on going.  Then, and only then, would the me that is me not be there.  Because then is freedom, is creation.  You become clay again, to be molded in your own fashion.  It's why so many artists write songs about their cars.  For instance, David Crosby, on the Thousand Roads album, wrote "Too Young To Die,":

Sweet old racin' car of mine
Roarin' down that broken line
I never been so much alive
Too fast for comfort, too low to fly
Too young to die
In a world totally different from the world in which he lived, from the drug use and all the escapes that are not really escapes at all but just temporary reprieves.  As in dreams, or books, or video games, or driving for hours into the wild unknowns. But in the end, there's always the return, back to reality. And that's okay, because you can't escape from you forever, but like a shot of Ether, a temporary break into the lands of your favorite book, it's a suspension of this life into another, or into nothingness.   

One of my associates at work talked about how the past experiences that I've had with driving effects the way I see it now.  And that makes sense.  As a child, it was either going to the store or to the doctors office (through which I was feeling really ill, if I was going to Doctor Gormley about something.), or to get my allergy shots at the hospital clinic in north Oklahoma City.  Which of course was wonderful getting a shot or two every week.  The destination was the problem.  I was never looking forward to going anywhere.  The only time during that part of my life I looked forward to was the drive down to Sulphur, Oklahoma where my grandparents had their lakehouse (see previous blogs). Then it was an hour drive south on I-35 past Pauls Valley and Wynnewood and Davis, down long a windy roads into a forest and gravel roads and to a secluded house where the world never seemed to invade, not even television.  That was freedom, because the end place continued the illusion of getting away from everything.  Which, of course, it didn't, but as I was a child, there was little to run away from.  But my dad still had his heart problems and the economy and all the adults seemed to have some problem or another, either with each other or with themselves.  But it was easier to forget there. 

Of course, then there are the cars themselves.  There is a certain joy in owning your own car.  Everyone knows this. For some reason, actually owning a car, making it your own, however that's done, be it french fries under the seat, or those adaptations you make so that the car will go down the road, the idiosyncrasies that make the car what it is, almost makes it organic. My 1988 Honda was like that.  And the stories of how, since no one told me where drive was on the stick shift, I plopped it to the bottom and drove off to Macon going 80. Now, going 80 on low gear tends to ruin things.  Thus my $2,000  Honda cost me $3500.  And then I learned to drive the car with both feet, with the left foot on the break and the right on the gas, so it wouldn't die at intersections and such.  Or my 1997 Mercury Mystique which had problems from the get go, and it only lasted a year or so, but I liked the car.  It was mine.  It was an exit.  It was potential.  I think we all fall in love with that potential, with the idea that, although we never do it, that car is a method by which we run away from it all.  It's the feeling in those hours before the sun sets when we just want to keep driving, away from everything we've known and never come back.  Should we ever do it, we'd find simply the same us lying over the next hill, at the next exit, past the intersection and the rest stop. 

And if I ever decide to go driving, to go on a vacation away from that which is me, I'll put Shawn Mullins' album Soul's Core on the CD player and keep it on rotate.  He captures the essence of nostalgia (which is really just escape) and the longing for freedom all into the tracks of the music, which, like the automobile, travels throughout the US finding places that we've never been, but would like to, one day, just around the setting of the sun. 

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