The Path Most Traveled
If Elon Musk and his autonomous driving acolytes are to be believed, commuting is the worst possible fate experienced by a human being. Akin to listening to Céline Dion's "The Power of Love" while being repeatedly root-canaled, driving your car to work everyday should be a form of torture prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Right? And self-driving cars, the paragon of wheeled ingenuity, will soon be here to save us from our horrific existence. Right?
Regardless of where you sit on the highway to hands-, mind-, and heart-free driving and its promised ease and utility, I propose we take a moment to honor commuting for some of its potentially higher qualities.
No one likes being stuck in traffic. That much is clear. But if you have a phone and a connection to your head unit, you literally have access to all of the word's recorded knowledge and amusement in your car. As a father and teacher, the word "bored" is an anathema to me: while sitting through what Homer Simpson eloquently described as "Gas, brake, honk; gas, brake, punch; gas, gas, gas" is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting, remember that you have Audible and Overdrive and Apple Music and Spotify and podcasts and YouTube (so long as you black out your screen). Not to mention Sirius XM and even the plain old radio! Congested roadways suck. But that doesn't mean you can't improve yourself or at least enjoy the airwaves.
I am an introvert, deep down--probably bordering on misanthropic. I cherish my time alone in the car, dreading the odd text or call from those who dare disturb my solace. But I understand not everyone is recharged when accompanied merely by their own thoughts. Still, it is healthy--essential even--to spend some time each day in your own mind. What better time to do this than while you drive? You are, after all, your own captive audience. Having a set time each day to review what you need to do is good, using that time to delve deeply into thoughts on topics important to you is better. Not in the mood for contemplation? Driving can also be a moving meditation—especially while commuting, as the quotidian sights and sounds generally do not distract. Many of us have trouble dedicating time to clear our minds, and commuting offers an opportunity for this—or at least just to unwind.
We love road trips for the scenery and adventure. Driving the same roads day in and day out is just boring, right? Not so! A super moon setting in the sky just over the open road, summer mist rising from a lake on a summer morning, autumnal tunnels of foliage framing the back roads home—even that random masked dude selling handmade potholders from a stand in his front yard I saw the other day. All of this is interesting to me, at least, and makes driving repeated routes worthwhile. Sure, commuting is generally short on adventure, but its always best to expect the unexpected. I dread passing accidents, for sure, but carspotting is fun even when solo. I’ve shamelessly waved at my share of Ferraris and McLarens over the years and am always on the lookout for my favorites.
Last, and, believe it or not, sometimes least, is appreciating your everyday driver. It doesn’t really matter what you commute in, after all, as this type of driving is more about practicality. Something comfortable, efficient, and reliable is ideal; something you can rotate through off-ramps and open up when merging is superlative. Still, even the family hand-me-down can be rewarding if the above conditions are met. All you have to do is be open minded and “respect the drive”.
Life on the Road
My commute has spanned from 1-4 hours per day for most of my adult life. When 2020 brought lockdowns, one of the things I was surprised to miss was all that driving. No matter the conditions of your commute, it is likely that you, like me, take it for granted to some degree. So, what would you add to this ode? What do you like about the path most traveled?
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.