May 11, 2022–I don’t understand those who enjoy driving.
While the romantic version is that of an intrepid traveler rolling over miles of ever-changing terrain, the reality is that you are sitting inside a 4-foot by 5-foot room, pressing your right foot on a pedal. If you use cruise control, you lose even that engagement with the process. Driving a car is the illusion of movement.
I’ve wondered if that is also the appeal of traveling by motorcycle. The ride is basically sitting astride a leather saddle, occasionally flexing the right wrist. Yet the wind, the road noise, and the vibration create the illusion of vigorous movement. You get more bodily engagement walking to the next room.
When you add family to the travel mix, the possibility of conflict rises geometrically. Every doubling of individuals quadruples the irritation. Again, imagine sitting in that 4 x 5-foot room with four other people of various ages, interests, and bladder sizes. Within two hours you’ve run out of civil topics to discuss and all the good snacks. Yet neither situation makes people stop talking or eating.
There was a time I loved to travel. I think it was more a desire to get away from the life I saw unrolling before me as a young man in the Midwest. Then, I had no hesitation at leaving home in a questionably-maintained, used vehicle, back seat filled with clothes and beer, and head filled with dreams and desires to see the world. We had no cell phones then, no GPS, no mapping services. We got lost. We broke down. We slept in the car. We saw ourselves as cowboys on horseback, blazing trails, our bedrolls behind the saddle, and every town a chance to help the beautiful daughter save the ranch.
Later I had no desire to leave home. I had my own ranch to save and my own beautiful daughters to protect.
But I am grateful that every young person has that built-in propensity to peer over the next hill or peek round the next corner. If they didn’t, nothing would ever change. We would never move at more than one horsepower.
Shortly after our country was founded, nothing could move faster than a horse could run.
The energy used to move everything–the mail, passengers, election results, goods, even services–topped out at one horsepower.
More fascinating is that not even the foremost thinkers of the time could conceive of the possibility of internal combustion engines moving carloads of passengers, of flying machines, or of messages flowing along singing wires coast to coast.
We shouldn’t patronize those pioneers. How many of us who were alive in the 1980s predicted the invention of the internet or saw a future where everyone carried a magical communication device in their palm?
There were the visionaries, working alone in labs and garages who came up with all this unimagined technology.
In “Breeds There a Man…?” Isaac Asimov conjectured that humanity has been cultured like bacteria by aliens to develop certain traits such as artistic ability or technological advancement. But if those experiments create “bacteria” that are too ambitious, a killing boundary reins them in. It is like flicking back a singe-celled organism that dares to crawl out of the petri dish.
Too many of us are content to live inside the petri dish, well-fed and safe from the extremes of the outside world. Even though I now count myself among those, I am forever grateful to those who still like to get out and drive.