The Ghosts of Road Trips Past

I wrote about it last week.

In another blog.

I analyzed road trips, past and present. Got a little carried away.

I was excited about a pending trip to San Francisco. I rambled carelessly on the subject, breathing in the road, the smell of rain on asphalt, the long periods of day dreams that road trips allowed, and how they always cheer me up. I mused about the open highways. Big rigs. Windmill farms. Themed restaurants… the like.

The whole Jack Kerouac experience.

I practically salivated over the keyboard as I imagined the good time that lay ahead.

It’s a true American pleasure.

Driving along a long, flat interstate through open country is one of the few times we’re apart from the constant barrage of people and their media and thoughts and stores. Your mind is finally able to rest and a calm focused world appears. Especially when driving alone. I imagine there’s a certain Zen that truck drivers tap into.

The way your mind opens up, how the road lulls you into a focused meditation; road trips have a certain divinity to them that I worship with a good mix tape and a bag of beef jerky.

I’ve made the drive up north so many times, visiting friends or girlfriends, or work, or camping, they’ve all blended together. Memories wander around, like loose sheep, on the hills of my mind, mingling with other memories, drifting places they don’t belong.

The time I visited an ex-girlfriend in Santa Cruz and we got lost in the woods; somehow got mixed in with New Year’s 1997, walking through Golden Gate Park and getting lost in the fog and watching the fireworks explode over the Pyramid Building; intruding on the memory of touring Alcatraz at the knee of my dad, looking into a cell and seeing the empty Carlos Rossi jug from Bay to Breakers, 2007.

It’s comforting, in a confused sort of way, that all these memories get along.

But, after all that anticipation, I didn’t go.

Guilt hung heavy in the cobwebs of my head. Something that wouldn’t have stopped me three years ago prevented me from going — my eco-conscious voice, nagging me to stay put. How could I justify using up 40 gallons of gas for one night of frivolity in the Bay? As enticing as it is?I had the money, that wasn’t the problem. It was the scarcity of old dinosaurs.

We don’t come close to the dinosaurs on size, but one day there may be so many of us that when the earth consumes us and we decompose, we might make the best fuel yet.

It’s selfishness — I think to myself every time I see one — that makes some asshole drive a Hummer.

If I took the trip to San Francisco — all by myself, just for one night — I lose all my moral standing when it comes to my driving habits: the way I coast to red lights instead of braking hard and them speed up gradually; and on steep hills I don’t floor it, like the 405 at the Sepulveda Pass.

It’s called hypermiling, and it would kill me to be robbed of that smug self-satisfaction.

From Wikipedia.

Generally fuel economy is maximized when acceleration and braking are minimized. So an effective strategy is to anticipate what is happening ahead, and drive in such a way so as to minimize acceleration and braking, and maximize coasting.

So, you see, I drive slower these days.Not because my reaction time is decreasing, but because it’s the simplest thing you can do to have a quick environmental, and economic, impact.

Speeding up from red lights is a giant waste of gas. It’s like gulping beer so fast you spill half of it down your shirt. Picture Ted Striker from Airplane. You’d look like a fool doing that, but people still think it’s cool to take off speeding down the street like drag racers in an “edgy” 50’s flick.

I saw a Prius hitting 50 mph on Ventura Blvd. the other day, on a string of red lights, pouring out the gas like Jeff Gordon at the Indy 500 just to slam on the brakes a few blocks later. The thinking of the driver left me irritated, fuming to myself in a 35 mph rage. I look at that style of driving as a relic from another time: like stoning a criminal or washing your clothes in a stream.


In the words of Kayne West, drive slow, homie.

The world(s) are changing. Both the one at large, the cities and towns and people navigating around them.

And my personal, little intimate one.

The one going on in my head… how I behave. The emotions I feel and fling and hide from… and sometimes address. I just can’t swing up to San Francisco on a whim anymore. Whether or not my sacrifice changes anything — about where we’re headed when the oil runs out — at least I know, when I look back, that I tried to change my ways.

I’m adapting in my own little auto-way.

If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, right?

And also, I know, it’s partly an excuse.The truth is, I don’t have the same will to be trapped in my car for six hours; and eat Fosters Freeze while slack jawed teenagers fawn over Lincoln Park, behind the counter popping bubbles with their bubble gum; and to sleep on the cold floor of my friend’s apartment, when I have a nice warm bed that is 10 seconds from my computer.

I’m * gulp * getting older.

I can tell by the amount of new fast food places on the road. When I first started driving this treck there were more gaps in the road, fast food dead zones where your hunger gnawed away at your stomach and you clung to the steering wheel watching for signs of arches or giant cowboy hats.

In 2008, you’re never more than 30 miles from one, like the missions on El Camino Real.

Two flags forever joined.One flag, secretly telling the otherhow to flap

And the world at large is changing because that’s what it always does.

It’s just that our perception and awareness of its changing is pixelated, causing it to feel more intense. It’s like we’re ants underneath a magnifying glass, but instead of a child viewing the ant, we’re viewing ourselves, and it’s starting to get real hot.

A man in the 1800’s, in Missouri, say (picture Micheal Landon but probably a lot less strapping) plowing his field and waiting for the trains to bring him a small bag of mail a month hadn’t a clue of the spasms and jitters and perpetual change and chaos of New York City. But New York City at that time was full of scared little people just like now. Not to mention the middle east. Europe. Asia. In fact, most of the world is doing a whole lot better than 100 years ago. But it’s hard to tell we’re better off, it’s just not the way it feels.

Because nowadays, wherever you are, technology delivers a daily IV drip of sight and sound, making us hyper-aware of each blemish and flaw of our world, like a teenager going through puberty.

And I’m not comparing Iraq to a zit.

Or saying we don’t face serious, end-of-the-world threats.

We do.

But we also have choices we can make, slight alterations of behavior.

We can’t let sensationalism and fear prevent us from adapting, surviving.

Truth is, we should never have hit the road as fiendishly as we did. When Henry Ford rolled out his cars the country was forever changed in their image, Americans took to the highways like a junkie on payday, abandoning all other modes of transportation in favor of the privacy and freedom and Big Macs that the car offered.It’s no longer possible to do the things we once did so freely.

That’s just a fact.

There’s a price on everything, a burden. If not at the pump, then in your consciousness.It shouldn’t take the last drops of oil purged from Babylon to wake us up to the fact that we live in a Stock Car Syndrome.

Slowing down a little and taking an extra minute or two on your commute should be the least of your worries.

Drive slow, homie.


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