Sunday, February 06, 2011

Drive Fast

It's not very often that I dispense automotive advice. Today, I am. It is Sunday and I'm going to preach a little. My advice is two words, and those two words are "Drive Fast," but I hope you stick with me long enough to hear why that's my advice.

Like pretty much every American, I live in a world designed for driving. My home, like yours I suspect, has a space specifically made for my automobile. My workplace, naturally, has plenty of parking. My bank features a drive-thru teller window, as do most of the coffee shops and fast food places. These fast places are mostly along the wide road, the one just off the swooping freeway exits. In the past hundred years we've put a lot of effort into making it easy to go from here to there quickly and while sometimes we can, too often we can't, so we've invented things like traffic reports, and books on tape to help us cope. And even when we do get from here to there and back again without incident or aggravation, the here and there are not quite like we dreamed. The dreams, the world shown us in the car commercials, is the driver on the open road, a lone car driving beneath blue skies, along a rocky coast or twisting through a green forest. In truth, we build rivers of concrete through our cities. We really do pave paradise to put up parking lots. Every day we chop down trees to make thousands of greasy bags to hold the millions of french fries we scarf down on our important trips to important places.

Far too often, our desires and dreams of rapid mobility are thwarted by all those idiots clogging our damn roads. Where the hell are all these bozos going? I need to be moving, of course, but what's up with the clown in the Honda? Of course, if we stop and breathe and think, we realize that we are all the clown in the Honda, so to speak, and while his errand may, in fact, be more or less important than mine at this moment, his task, to him, is what he needs to be doing.

Hmm, stop and breathe and think. There's an idea. It's an idea that came to me decades ago, when I was stuck in traffic. I wouldn't give up my car, not forever anyway, but maybe I'd take a break, briefly. I decided to drive fast.

Not fast as in zoom, zoom but fast as in take a break. Some people fast for reasons of religion or health, deciding, for example, to abstain from eating meat. I decided to fast from driving, for a while, for my health. Mostly for my mental health.

I think it was easier for me than for many because I really never enjoyed driving. The disconnect between the dream and the reality was always too much for me. Pressing a gas pedal never thrilled me the way turning a bike pedal does. But maybe that's just me.

I do know that my driving fast worked for me. I liked not driving. I liked seeing where I was dependent on having a car, seeing that as a problem and working on that problem. The easiest way to work on the problem was to work on myself and my circumstance. My fast grew from a day without driving to something bigger. I don't hate cars, but I love much of the world that we've been destroying to make way for them. I allied myself with simpler forms of locomotion, like walking and cycling. But I also allied myself with big complex systems like trains and buses. Motor vehicles have their place, but for me I found that place didn't have to be my own parking place with my own car.

Christine and I have lived happily without owning an automobile for just under a quarter of century. We've raised two sons who are now both grown men and who have somehow never bothered to become licensed drivers. This is just the reality of our lives but somehow this has been thought of as news and we wind up giving talks to people who want to know our "secret". The secret is making choices. Everyone makes choices every day and I know my choices will not be yours.

But I do have this advice. Try giving something up. Briefly. It's easy if it's something you don't enjoy or some part of your life that you suspect is not really giving you what you need. Maybe today is the day you drive fast. And by that I mean that maybe today is the day you don't drive. Try it, for a day. Look at your city and your life from the standpoint of a pedestrian or from the seat of a bicycle. You might like some of what you see and you probably won't like some of what you see. But I think you'll find it interesting.

Drive Fast. That's my advice.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

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