John Krewson wrote an excellent column on the solitude of driving in the April edition of Road & Track magazine. Time was, we were tethered to the outside world by an AM radio; that was about as connected as we could get. Sure, I like to be able to dictate (hands-free, of course and always) to Siri to create a reminder to, “Take in my son’s jacket to the dry cleaner at 10am tomorrow to be mended”. She/He/It obediently records this to my calendar, syncs it across all of my devices, and will remind me at the appointed hour to get to the dry cleaner.
As Apple debuts ‘CarPlay’ (no ‘i’ in car, I suppose), Mr. Krewson writes about the therapeutic value of driving alone, and how the occupation of your mind with “constant, low-level thinking” while driving allows the rest of your brain to process other random thoughts.
Golf has a similar, more cleansing effect. When you’re trying to sink a nine-foot putt, you’re not thinking about anything else. You visualize the path, you rehearse the kiss of the putter face to the ball, and you give it the old college try, for whatever it’s worth. The mortgage can wait. The need to drop off your son’s blazer to the dry cleaner’s can wait. The most important thing in the world, in that second, is to sink the putt. That clears your head.
Driving, however, is like going to a rock concert. You’re concentrating on the activity around you; how cars are moving from lane-to-lane; whether the light up ahead will change before you get to the intersection; if that idiot beside and just behind you will ever get out of your blind spot. Meanwhile, you still have the cognitive ability to let your mind wander to other things, or not.
At a rock concert, you do much the same. You concentrate on the music, while admiring the amazing light show that is perfectly synced to the music; marvel at the the audio visual support that seems to be a given for every song played; scan the floor seats and wonder if they’re ever going to be able to sit down again.
Or, you could be like the person beside me at the recent Billy Joel concert, who talked (nay, yelled) her way through the opening act with her partner. On the break for the set up for Mr. Joel, I turned to her, and asked, in a very polite voice, “You’re not going to talk all through the concert, are you?” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “If you’re talking, you’re yelling over the music, then I can’t hear the music.” She replied, and I quote, and I am not making this up, “I can’t control that.” I. CAN’T. CONTROL. THAT.
Fortunately, she was sitting to my right, the stage on an angle to my left, and I simply plugged my right ear each time she spoke to her partner, who had earlier admonished me for suggesting that they would yell if they wanted to during the concert, and that if I wanted to hear the music, I should have purchased more expensive seats, away from the ‘cheap seats’.
I pity anyone who would get into a vehicle with either of these two persons. If she received a text message while driving, she wouldn’t be able to control herself. She’d have to respond to the text message, and likely put her car into a telephone pole.
The real issue, is how reasonable can we be? I minimize the calls I make while driving, and always hands-free. I send the occasional text via Siri, again, hands-free. I warn people that I speak with that I may stop talking at any time, as my driving may need my full and undivided attention.
I like being present. As pointed out at a recent school assembly, being present really is a gift. Be present when you drive. Be aware. Take pride in carving the perfect corner; executing the perfect lane change; stopping on the yellow rather than running the red. There are ways to strive without burden, to achieve without collateral damage.
I hope the young lady beside me learns to be present some day, be it at a rock concert or in her daily life. I hope that Mr. Krewson is able to continue to find peace in his car. I hope we can all be connected enough with those around us, without disconnecting from our humanity.
There’s Siri now. Time to take the jacket to the dry cleaner.