By contemporary American standards, I don't drive much; my car, not quite four years old, has a mere 37,600 original miles. This is at least partially due to short commuting distances: until I relocated to Surlywood in the fall of 2003, the distance to and from work was a stunningly meager 7.5 miles, and even today, the round trip is only 21.6 miles, a figure which is on the low side by central-Oklahoma standards and downright amazing to Angelenos and New Yorkers and even a hefty number of Dallasites.

Still, nearly half those miles over those four years were accumulated in a mere ten weeks: each July I embark on a somewhat-misnamed World Tour, in which I abandon hearth and home in search of — well, actually, I don't know what I'm searching for, but so far I've driven 18,097 miles trying to track it down.

The journey, of course, is not the destination, or so they say. Still, nothing makes me want to get back on the road quite as much as not being able to get back on the road. And this week, while I'm housebound with an infection or two, and even though I know that the massive dose of antibiotics I'm taking will cause some small but noticeable reduction in my driving skills, the road is calling. Loudly. It does that.

Like probably seventy percent of all drivers, I consider myself a 70th-percentile driver. Obviously some of us are overrating ourselves, and I'm quite certain I'm not up to the level of, say, the chaps who drove in the Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash; on the other hand, I'm going on twenty-four years without a moving violation, and as surviving passengers will tell you, I'm not known for my slavish devotion to speed limits. Not that there are many passengers to interview; when the going gets long, I'd rather go alone.

Now I don't drive some wonderfully-overpowered four-wheeled gymnast. My car is a modest little Japanese-branded sedan (albeit built in the US by a UAW crew) with a tiny four-cylinder engine. On the other hand, this car understands roads: she tracks the straightaways without any feints to the side, and she sticks to the curves way past the point where the tires issue complaints. And that's part of the thrill: knowing the limits of the car, and then running a couple of clicks below them, knowing I have a few square inches of comfort zone left if I need them. (This is perhaps why I never really aspired to, say, owning a Porsche 911; I know its limits are way beyond my own, which is good, but I'd also be tempted to push my luck, which is not so good.)

Still, even driving isn't the only reason to go out for a drive:

[T]hings that tell us about ourselves and where we came from aren't necessarily preserved in a display case. They're also scattered throughout everyday life. When we drive a highway, we're surrounded by them.

And while I'm (probably) far more than halfway through my life, I'm still curious about things like that; so long as I remain so, I'll be listening for the call of the road, and answering when I can.

The Vent

  8 September 2004

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 Copyright © 2004 by Charles G. Hill