Friday, August 04, 2006

COLUMN: Aimless Driving

Last week in these pages, we talked about global warming. Well, we talked about how I'd seen Al Gore's flick, "An Inconvenient Truth," which is a fantastic film with a fantastic message. That message, to wit: Feel guilty. Feel very, very guilty.

When it comes to environmentalism, I am not so hot at reppin' my blue-state values. I don't recycle, I run my air conditioner 24-7, I leave the water running while I brush my teeth. Essentially, Barack Obama needs to come along with a rolled-up newspaper and swat me on the nose like a scolded puppy. "Bad liberal, baaaad liberal!"

But there's one thing in particular that makes me feel especially guilty. Not because it's something I've done for years, before knowing the horrors of global warming. No, it's worse than that. I feel guilty because, now that I KNOW that the planet is going to heck in a purse, I'm still not going to stop doing it. No way, no how.

I like to drive. I mean, I REALLY like to drive. And no left-wing movie, as vehemently as I agree with it, can make me do different. I steadfastly remain the King of Aimless Driving, and it's my intention to retain the throne for as long as possible.

Forget global warming; this is about BRAIN warming. The real dangers are those days, those weeks when things just never go your way. A customer yells at you. You forget your sunglasses on your desk. The Taco Bell drive-thru tells you that they're "out of meat". The gas station clerk insists you gave her a five when you KNOW you gave her a twenty. (All of which happened to me this week.)

That's when your brain starts to steam and fume. And every added bit of stress just contributes to that sizzling ball of stress in your head. Well, let me tell you from first-hand experience, there is NO bit of stress that can't be melted away with a moonlit drive through the country.

My friends and I discovered it in college. Studying too hard? (Hey, this is MY column - I can pretend I was a good student if I want!) Someone would just yell "CORNFIELDS! NOW!" Next thing we knew, we were loading the car with junk food, a good mix tape, and hitting the open gravel roads. Where would we end up? When would we get home? That was up to fate.

Some days we'd only be gone for a half hour; other days we'd get lost and end up in Timbuktu. But there wasn't a single night that didn't become a fun adventure of some sort. But if YOU decide to take up night-time aimless driving, there ARE a few rules to heed.

1. LIGHT POLLUTION CAN BE YOUR FRIEND. If you're lost in the middle of the sticks, just get to the top of a hill and look for the distant glows of major cities. On a clear night, you can see that megalithic strobe tower in Bettendorf some 20-30 miles away. Of course, sometimes following glows can get you in trouble. Once, my friend Jason and I were seriously lost in the pitch middle of the night. We saw a glow and followed it. Turned out to be Beloit, Wisconsin. At 3 a.m. For reference, Beloit Wisconsin is NOT a fun place to be at 3 a.m.

2. ALWAYS HAVE AN ESCAPE PLAN. Watch out that the country road you're rolling down is not a country driveway. Every time we go out in the boonies, we invariably take some cool-looking gravel road that turns out to be Bob's Road. Which leads us straight to Bob's House. And Bob is usually some cast member of "Deliverance." And Bob don't cotton to strangers. Always be ready to turn around and hightail it outta there.

3. DEER ARE SUICIDAL. They like to fling themselves in front of your path at all times, and nothing ruins the ambience of a good evening drive quite like an antler to the skull. Safety first, gang.

4. ALL ROADS LEAD TO JOY. If you're driving around south of town and get lost, don't worry. Eventually you'll end up in the tiny town of Joy, Illinois. I don't know why, but it seems like every country road eventually takes you there. My guess is that it's secretly the center of the universe. We've ended up randomly in Joy so often that I once considered getting a video rental membership at the gas station out there.

5. DON'T FALL ASLEEP IN A CAR FULL OF PROFESSIONAL AIMLESS DRIVERS. One time, our friend Kelly came along and ended up falling asleep just outside of town with the words, "Wake me up if you find something interesting." Four hours later we woke her up on the steps of the Capital Building in Springfield and asked her if it was interesting enough. We were amused; the jury's still out on her.

6. DON'T OVERDO IT. Take it from me. Once you start learning the back roads, the magic is gone. Nowadays, if my friends and I feel like getting lost in the country, we've got to get at least fifty miles away before we have no idea where we are.

I can't stop driving aimlessly. I don't care if it costs the equivalent of the gross national product of Botswana to fill the tank. It's a necessary evil. I'll be a good liberal in all other aspects of life, I swear it. But until Al Gore shows up at my door with an electric car for me and my friends, we're still going to be mucking up the environment and hitting the dusty trail from time to time. If Greenland melts, I'll apologize. Promise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yep, me too. It's all about the aimless driving. Since I do so many things alone *ahem*, I tend to do that alone, too. It's some of the best think time I ever have.