What driving does to our brains

We moved into our new house last week. It’s about twice as far from the Society as we lived before, which would make a walking commute over an hour, which is getting a little long even for an ex-New Yorker (45 minutes is my limit for walking commutes). I have been researching ecologically correct possibilities for getting to and from work—or at least more eco-correct than my being yet another single person in a car. I’ve known too many bicycle accidents to bike regularly, especially in the rain and sleet and dark of night. I’m researching scooters, which get more than 60 miles to the gallon, but for the past week I have been driving. . . .

Boy, you get places fast when you drive. And it’s fun to listen to the radio and sing real loud. And gas is still cheaper for our car than taking the bus would be. . . . I’m beginning to see why people like to drive, even when they have to sit in traffic regularly.

Growing up in NYC and not really learning to drive until recently, I somehow missed the whole open-road aspect of being American. Friends would talk about loving the fact that at any moment, they could tell everyone to go to hell, jump in their cars, and take off–even if they never actually did it. That feeling has become part of the American character, with good and bad results. It’s fed our expansive, entrepreneurial spirit of possibility. It’s also fed our community-destroying, isolationist sprawl, not to mention white flight. I wonder to what extent it feeds our tendency not to stay and work things out—with our friends and family, relationships, work, other nations. If we don’t like a person, people, situation—to hell with ’em. Let’s ride. Why live with discomfort, inconvenience, diversity, imperfection, difference, challenge, when you can just jump in the car and go. Of course, the grass is not greener on the other side of interstate, so we move again. And again.

I hope my psyche will be safer on a 49cc scooter. You don’t want to tell anyone to go to hell when you can’t go more than 40MPH.