Road Trip

12 October, 2011

On my way to Jacksonville, AL (home of the JSU Gamecocks!), one of the Alabama NPR stations, which, by the way, aren’t synced up like they are in Mississippi, nor have nearly the same continuous coverage, was playing This American Life. The topic this week was on our love affair with cars. Love it or hate it, cars are here, and here to stay. Some of us love them, some of us love to hate them, and the rest of us think nothing about them.

For some, a car is just a means to get from A to B, and no more. It’s a convenience that is taken for granted. Some even think that cars are of no use at all, can be best replaced by public transportation, and if can be eliminated, all the better.

I agree that public transportation can alleviate the energy crisis, traffic, and several other impending doom situations that cars create. If I had a good way to use public transportation to go to work (which might actually happen in the next two years in Starkville), I would use it.

So why do I like the car? A car gives me independence from the need to rely on somebody else or a schedule that is no my own. It gives me the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I can take a road trip, go to the market, or just drive around for driving sake. A car is more than transportation. A road trip is more than getting to the destination.

The act of driving a car is thrilling for some, terrifying for others. You’re in control of a beast bigger, more powerful, and faster than you. Like a horse. And like horses, some stay away from them like the plague, and others seek not only every opportunity to be in control of these beasts, but look for the biggest, most powerful, and fastest ones out there.

Continuing with the horse analogy, some people even develop a sort of relationship with their cars. The sort of relationship a trainer develops with their horse. After a while, a person is able to really master a car, get to know its qwerks and how to really make it run the way the person wants it to run.

A road trip is about those hours between your home and destination. It’s about spending time with people you like, don’t like, or yourself. It’s also about taking those long ribbons of pavement we’ve strewn across the country. It’s about seeing those cities between here and Atlanta. It’s about going over the river and through the woods. And the best part of a road trip – no TSA to deal with.

Cars will continue to get better, no doubt. Safety features, smarter cars, easier to drive cars, and cars that use electricity will become more common in the future. I’m excited about this, and for the most part, fully support it. But even as my daily driver gets replaced by these better, faster, smarter, more fuel-efficient things, I will strive to keep a good, old-fashioned gas-powered car in my stable. Nothing feels as good, sounds as good, or looks as good as a powerful engine. Yes, they waste gas. But as the car saved the horse for leisure, the electric car will do the same for the old beasts. While less gas is used on a daily basis, there will be less of a crisis for gasoline as demand for it goes down, and the car will be saved.

As I sit in my hotel room, watching a zombie movie, typing this post out, I am not thinking about the training I have to attend tomorrow. I’m thinking about Sir Stirling Moss’s Mille Miglia drive in 1955. I have this imagery of a silver bullet rocketing across the Italian country side, Moss at the wheel and Jenkinson trying to hold on for dear life, navigation notes in hand. The imagery is beautiful to me. That is what motoring, at its purist, is to me.