October 25, 2007


Travel is not so wearing because of the distances travelled. Modern convenience has seen to that. As if boats and trains and airplanes weren’t enough we have escalators and elevators and moving walkways, trams and busses, subways and skyways. And just to mitigate any possible inconvenience these marvels have left behind, we have checked baggage, espresso bars, sports on big screen televisions, and newsstands galore liberally dotting all those many places people pass through. Yet the fact remains, we hate travel.

But we love our cars. We build roads twelve lanes wide (one way) and then fill them with so many vehicles that even these so-called expressways slow to a crawl. We drive for hours each day just for the joy of suburban life and urban paychecks which we squander on shiny plastic, patent leather, gasoline, and anti-lock brakes, but complain that the new subway line costs too much of our precious tax dollars.

I fear I have gotten rather far afield. These dichotomies were on my mind as I traveled to and from Toronto this past weekend. The conclusions I came to revolved around our feeling of control. For the second time this year, I sat behind the wheel of my car and I felt good. I felt free. For this short space of time I felt entirely in control of my life, as if my actions alone could determine the outcome.

That is an illusion of course. I’m not alone on the road and I’m sure other drivers have their own ideas, for better or for worse. Not to mention all the labor of all the hands who got me to that point. I have no idea whether or not the factory quality control checker counted all the screws, if the mechanic doing the tire rotation tightened all the nuts, if the road crew doing construction on the new bridge swept it clear of sharp metal objects before opening it, or when that squirrel will decide to make a run for it. But I feel in control, and it feels good.

It feels even better after an entire weekend feeling like I am (and I literally am) placing my life in the hands of strangers. Letting them get me from place to place safely, on time, and with all of my belongings. It made me wonder after a day of travel why I could possibly be so tired when all I had done was sit, in a car, in an airport, on a plane, in another airport, on another plane, and finally another car. Not for very long either. It took less than six hours to get me from Toronto to Omaha, and only a bit over two was spend actually in the air. But the anxiety of placing so much trust on so many people and feeling so absolutely without control for those six short hours, makes it wearing.

So when I finally slid back behind the wheel of my car, I didn’t resent the final hour of my journey home. I think perhaps that is why people seem so prone to road rage. Why even my sweet, bubbly friend Noreen cusses like a sailor behind the wheel. When that much loved and longed for feeling of control is revealed for an illusion, it is a bitter thing.

We American’s love our cars. “Land of the Free” etc. etc. “Manifest Destiny” and all of that.

If I really had that much control, I think I’d be more inclined to manifest chocolate cake.

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