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Drive My Car

Excuse me for a moment. I need to meet my monthly quota in order to remain a Cantankerous Misanthrope in Good Standing. So let me say just this.

I am in Salt Lake City. I drove here in two days by myself. I left Minneapolis last Tuesday morning at about nine, heading south on I-35. At Des Moines, I turned west on I-80.

I passed through Omaha and Lincoln, and had a dinner of sorts in Kearney (pronounced, it turns out, not as keernie but karnie) around seven in the evening. I decided to push on as far as I could, thinking that North Platte might be a suitable halfway point.

The Wife and I had in fact stayed at the Hampton Inn in North Platte before, on our way to visit Santa Fe last spring. I pulled into the lot, remembering that it had been pleasant, clean, and affordable. It was full.

I was directed to the Quality Inn across the street. Expensive, but they offered a free hot buffet breakfast. Sounded good. I checked in. A passable experience (as in, next time, I’ll pass).

I departed at eight the next morning. I soon crossed into Mountain Time, whereupon it was suddenly 7:30 again. I drove and drove and drove, bouncing around NPR affiliates all morning as I passed into and out of broadcast ranges.

Feeling more asleep than awake, I descended into SLC at about six that evening.

So: I drove.

It was the third leg of a double-roundtrip drive, two legs of which I did alone. This was our choice. I like driving. I love driving. I could drive forever. During the dark days of teaching summer school, when time dragged by interminably, and I felt I was stuck in Act 1 of some 2-act Beckett comedy, I would reenergize myself by anticipating my return trip in August to SLC. Just me and the road, me and some cool CDs in the stereo, truckstop burgers, diner coffee in chipped white porcelain, pie a la mode from a round display plinth under a clear plastic helmet.

I drive well alone, and I drive well as a team with The Wife. We love road trips. We drove to Portland in 1997. We drove to New York in 1998. We drove to Winnipeg in 1999. We drove to Charlottesville in 2000. We drove to Santa Fe in 2002. And by the end of this summer, I’ll have gotten to take three road trips, twice to SLC, once to Santa Fe. Do I mind? Of course not. Are there alternatives to this choice? Certainly.

We planned this summer with considerable care. We needed to coordinate The Wife’s program with my summer teaching, the end of her day job, and our moving plans. We had to budget our resources between grad programs, moving costs, living expenses. We sketched timelines on legal pads. We clacked away on calculators. We pondered what we had to do, and what we could do without. We contemplated what we enjoy and what we’re reluctant to endure.

One of those things, for me, is flying. I don’t like it. I never have, particularly. I’m not actually afraid (though it can freak me out occasionally). Rather, it seems like cheating. And when you destroy distance, you tend to devalue whatever matter is contained within. So maybe seventy percent of the North American continent becomes, insultingly, the “flyover” region. No. I won’t stand for that. We, in this society, are already so violently anti-materialistic; we need no encouragement in casting aside the viscera of this world like offal, discarding good matter far more easily than we ever cast aside bad ideas. We destroy things, kill people, and worship beliefs. And to think that getting in a plane is a solution — the best solution, the only solution — to the problem of space, even thinking that space is a problem — I find this at best lazy thinking and at worst the root of all that is fucked up about our species at the moment.

So: I drive. I drive to remember what this planet is made of. I drive to pay attention. I drive as a small gesture of secular devotion. But I am not going to explain this every time people ask me about my plans. As I said, we planned carefully, taking all these things into account. Needs, wants.

And here’s the problem.

I’ll sit at dinner with people, or chat with them after work. And I’ll mention with relish that I’ll be driving to Utah soon, to visit for a week and then drive my wife home from the two-month program she’s been enrolled in.

And do you know what they will ask? Go ahead and guess. That’s right. They’ll ask, “Why don’t you fly?”

I remind them that my wife has been living out there for two months. She needed to bring many clothes, books, her favorite cooking gear. She wanted to be comfortable, she needed to be able to create a homelike space in which to recuperate from the staggeringly complex and demanding work she’s been doing. It took a whole carload to get her out there.

What do you think they will they say to this?

“Why didn’t she fly, and you could have shipped it out to her?”

As if we hadn’t thought of that. As if our plan, our solution, were no solution at all, but just us stumbling about in the dark and groping, through some profound lack of imagination, for the clumsiest, most unbearably tedious method available, the first, no doubt, that had occurred to us.

I marvel at the people who think that their spur-of-the-moment suggestions could possibly be more appropriate for us than the plans we develop for ourselves. I plan for months, and then when I announce my intentions, some armchair pundit, with no information at hand, no notion of what’s in my bank account or in my heart, ponders aloud why I didn’t do something else, desire something else, choose some other path.

As if I’m asking advice. Well, I’ve asked for advice and I’ve been ignored, or I’ve been led astray, while enduring patronizing condescension. I don’t ask anymore. Do I sound like I’m soliciting their invaluable input? When I have nothing else to do, and I’m, say, trimming my fingernails, and I’m not in the mood to, say, ponder the fate of The West Wing as it enters its fifth season, I wonder if I might appear to anyone as being in need of advice.

Do I have stupid and naïve etched on my forehead? Do I exude some trace pheromone that lights up in peoples’ limbic system: “this guy doesn’t think things through, he’s irrational and impulsive”? I’ve tried to withhold information, to stonewall when people ask me about what I’m up to. (“How are you?” “Fine.” “What are you up to this summer?” “Nuthin much.” How boring.) But this goes against my essentially chatty nature. And anyway, I can’t clam up about everything. Sooner or later, certain conversations can be avoided no longer, and people will press me for details. And then I get their well-intentioned suggestions…

In the end, all I’m trying to say is, I like driving. I married someone who likes driving. Have I made that clear? Yes: I fucking drove to Utah twice this summer. Get over it.

Okay, I feel better now. As you were.