Thursday, March 26, 2009

Behind the Wheel

I thought about my father today. One of the things we used to do as a family was to "go for a drive." I don't remember where we were going all the time. My parents liked to drive around and look at houses. My mother always wanted to buy a house; my father did not. But they could always look, she could always dream, and we would spend a Sunday afternoon driving around. Or we would be driving out into the country, perhaps on the way to see my grandmother. I don't remember the destination, but I always remember the drives.

Invariably in those days before highways, we would find ourselves driving behind someone who my father would angrily categorize as a "Sunday driver," meaning someone who was driving more slowly than he wanted to drive. Sunday drivers made him angry and he would speed up and pass them at the very first opportunity, often continuing to lecture about the stupid Sunday drivers.

I realize that I've become a Sunday driver most days of the week. Unless I'm facing a deadline, I am more interested in enjoying the journey rather than rushing to get to the destination.

I took my mother to Kaiser today to get her pre-op blood work and EKG done. Kaiser is one freeway stop from where she lives and I actually enjoy taking the frontage road. The speed limit is 40 mph but I like going slower and it's fun to look at the shops along the way. I know my mother usually rolls her eyes. She can't understand why I don't just take the freeway.

There are two choices to get from I-80, the freeway that takes me from here to my mother's. One is to continue on the new freeway bypass that goes by Marine World. On weekends it's often clogged with cars filled with happy people ready to climb into machines that will send them hurtling off into spirals and corkscrews.

MarineWorld.jpg (87433 bytes)

The other choice is to get off at American Canyon, a lovely 2-lane road that winds down between two hills, past horse farms and into the road through the town of Vallejo (which connects up with the busier freeway before it actually gets into the town. I always opt for American Canyon. It's slower, but especially at this time of year, the hills are a deep green, the poppies are blooming, there may be young colts romping in the fields and you don't see any of that on the big freeway.

We spend so much of our lives in the car and, I don't know, maybe it's because David died while doing something stupid (driving drunk), but I have become much more aware of my driving habits over the past few years, and I am a much more conscientious driver...a "Sunday driver," if you will.

I heard a report once about how many accidents are caused by people busy doing other things while driving, things that take their eyes off the road briefly which may be the last brief moment of their lives.

Jeri routinely makes cell phone calls while she's driving to and from gigs in Boston, but she's a conscientious user, who has a hands free cell phone and who actually says "I have to stop for a minute and pay attention to this traffic" when things get heavy. It comforts me to know that she seems to be a responsible cell phone user.

In contrast, I have a friend who spends a lot of time in the car and, like Jeri, uses her phone a lot to fill the empty miles while she's driving. Before the recent law went into effect, which means big fines if you're caught using your cell phone while driving, she just used her cell phone while driving. But now that there is a fine involved, she still uses her phone, but holds it in her lap and actually sends and reads text messages while driving. Scares the heck out of me to be sitting next to her, me looking at the cars ahead of us, and her looking down trying to read a text message.

There is something very compelling about having a phone ring while you're in the car. Somehow you just have to answer immediately. My way of dealing with it (since I don't have hands free equipment) is to let the phone ring and then pull off at the next offramp and check the number of the call I missed. It may mean that the conversation has to take place 3 minutes later than the original call, but I comfort myself by thinking that I have a better chance of not causing an accident while I'm trying to manipulate the cell phone and drive at the same time.

We are a nation of instant gratification. We don't want to wait a single minute. We don't want to take time to smell (or look) at the roses...we want to race through the highways so we get to our destination a few minutes sooner, even if there is no reason to arrive at the destination sooner. We want to answer every cell phone call or text message instantly, not wait for the next offramp, no matter how many lives we may be putting in jeopardy.

It just seems to me that life would be so much better, and we would have so many fewer accidents, if we slowed down a bit and enjoyed the view...without having to call your BFF to describe it to her at the same time!

1 comment:

Le laquet said...

My mum and dad do the driving thing to this day - she says it's how she knows short cuts to everywhere because one of them will say "what's up there?" and the other one will reply "well let's go and see!"

*mingle, mingle, mingle*