There are times I’d like to simply drive 300 miles without stopping, but due to climbing gas prices, such vagabondry would be foolish and excessive. Instead, I settle for the drive down 80 West to the East Bay.
I’ve grown quite accustomed to this drive, where the end point is my parents’ abode in the Oakland Hills bordering Berkeley. What I enjoy the most is how 80 transforms from country scenery to urbanized development. It slowly turns from bucolic landscape in the form of green meadows, grazing cows and marshland to more elevated topography, lush blue waters and views of San Francisco’s skyscrapers poking up into the sky.
Since their advent, modes of transportation have been a point of fascination for psychologists studying the effect that motion has on mentality. Yes, some people get motion sickness, while others feel that the “en route” state is only a mundane necessity for getting from one place to another. But for the true adventurists out there, motion is freedom, experiencing the road to get from here to there as equally fulfilling to arriving at the destination.
What’s thrilling to me about driving from Point A to Point B is being suspended in OtherSpace, located neither here nor there. Every time I drive back up to Davis from Oakland I get to stop in a different city for gas, as well as buy my mid-trip coffee at varying locations. Fairfield is a common stop for their shopping mall, where delectable candied apples await me at Haagen-Dazs to serve as the perfect mid-trip snack.
There is a psychology to our fascination with road trips. Think about you and your friends in a car, loud music playing, the hood of your car swallowing the road, your point of location constantly shifting. I find it exhilarating. Our psyches can rest at ease knowing that on road trips we’re moving ahead somewhere as opposed to staying stuck, with the distance covered being blatantly measured and easily observed.
The space of the car is at once no space and many spaces. Though you’re contained to one space, you don’t remain in one spot. As humans, we have a predilection for wanting to move forward while also feeling safe. In the car we are enclosed, but we’re also moving full speed ahead. Pretty scenery whirs by. We leave things in the dust. All the while music plays, and the temperature is adjusted to fit our needs.
The car is comforting to many people for one thing because it’s enclosed. For another, it’s private. My housemate Kyra often uses her car as a second room when the house gets chaotic. A good many venting sessions between the two of us have been contained to the insides of her grey Mitsubishi.
It’s a quiet place, entirely your own (more so than your room, when you consider how paper-thin some of our walls are). You can engage in frisky business in the car, or you can talk for hours with the music playing and then come back to your vehicle later that night in the pouring rain to find that the battery’s drained (as my housemate Mags and I did once after a late night workout at the ARC).
I always wanted to be one of those babies pulled along in little tents attached to their dads’ bikes. It felt so much safer than riding my own bike, where contact with the open air and the outside world seemed threatening. It’s the human tendency to want to burrow. Enclosed moving apparatuses allow for this.
For this reason, I’d recommend going for a drive once in a while (past the cornfields is cathartic) to clean your mind. Mental clarity can often arise in the presence of motion, where the concrete distance traveled serves as a model for forward thinking.
I don’t mean to advocate environmental pollution, however, so keep these spontaneous drives to a minimum. And carpooling is always good.
My new silver car is named Phlipper by the way, substituted for my old 1995 Saturn, Mr. Toad, who finally croaked a couple months back. He puts up with me playing Pitbull really loudly inside him … I should probably be rewarding him with a wash one of these days. When I get around to it.
ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.