There was a lot I had to get used to when I moved to the United States, one of the biggest of which was being on the road. I couldn’t understand the relationship that Americans seem to have with driving; the enormous utility vehicles used for a five minute commute, the speedy and sometimes reckless driving, the low cost of gas, driving on the right hand side; none of it quite made sense to me. It was foreign, other, and I could not quite come to grips with it or with the intense connection that the American people seem to have with their cars, which, as far as I can tell, they treat as extensions of themselves.
But then I discovered the open road.
My boyfriend and I had flown north with the plan to drive from Boston to Montreal and back. It was a small holiday, a way of seeing a bit more of this big and diverse country. As we left the city and found ourselves heading north into what was, for us, the unknown, I felt it. It. If you’ve driven long distances in the States, then you know what I mean. It’s a hard feeling to describe, though many have tried. Freedom is, I think, as close as you can get in one word. The freedom of being out in those lanes with relatively few cars around you, barrelling forward into the mysterious otherness of the landscape. We saw the northern states that way; the expanse of deep and verdant trees extending into the infinite; the small, wood-structured, friendly towns; the mountains looming on the far horizon. Music played softly through the radio as we drove on and up, not so much to go anywhere, but just to feel the independence of movement and discovery.
I felt the same thing driving to Florida’s west coast on our self-mandated evacuation when the effects of Hurricane Matthew were still unknown. Something about the distance of the horizon and the sense of adventure. I’m not saying I now understand the sheer number of oversized cars on the road in Florida, but I do have a better appreciation of just how important driving is to the culture of this country. It makes more sense that Springsteen, Kerouac and so many others spent so much of their careers trying to describe the feeling of being out on the road. It’s four-wheeled freedom, facing the frontier without fear of finality.
Sometimes it’s just nice to drive.