I’m not what you would call a “good driver.” People don’t look at my driving and say things like, “Wow, that guy clearly understands the local traffic patterns and feels confident behind the wheel.” Usually, when people see my driving, they can’t say anything because they’re too busy screaming and jumping behind the nearest anchored object.
It’s not that I drive slow, or even fast. I don’t have issues staying in lane, and I’m not distracted by my cellphone. I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket or traffic violation. I do a pretty good job at following laws and leaving enough room. I think, on paper, I’m a pretty good driver. On paper.
It’s that I get bored.
I realize how that sounds. You’re beginning to wonder if you’re being given the tedious insights of a man slowly becoming a Carmagedon serial killer. Rest assured, I drive too slow to actually hurt anyone. I get bored and so I day dream.
My mind wanders while I drive. The monotony of taking left and right turns and of obeying red lights becomes too ingrained, I no longer pay attention, my brain treats it like walking or brushing teeth so it’s become second nature. One thing leads to another and all of the sudden I’ve just run a school bus full of screaming children into a ditch. So I have to talk to myself while I drive.
“Left turn coming up, Nick.” I say, trying to emulate the robotic voice of my GPS. “Turn left in 200 meters. Watch out for bicyclist behind you. Turn radio nob down to 7, you don’t like this song.”
Falling asleep at the wheel is a big issue for me. I can nap just about anywhere. Psychologists talk about the Fight or Flight response; mine is more of a Fight or Take a Nap and Maybe the Danger Will Go Away response. As long as I’m comfortable, every blink of the eye can be one that sends me into a catatonic four minute nap.
So long drives are out of the question, really. A solo road trip would prove as the final chapters to my life as I’m sure I’d pass out at the wheel and be that guy who drove his Honda Civic into a national landmark. My story would be one well known among park rangers. “And here,” one might say one day, “is where that idiot fell asleep behind the wheel and drove off the cliff. The Grand Canyon is a mile deep, so rest assured he had ample opportunity to think about what he had done before his car exploded on the cliff side.”
That said, I wish it was just long drives. Any drive involving me sitting in a comfortable seat, in a climate controlled environment proves hazardous for my health. Small drives, no longer than 15 minutes to the next town over, are made maddening by drooping eyes and a bobbing head.
It’s infuriating. But not enough to wake me up. I’ve literally slapped myself awake, I’ve put on loud music and I’ve rolled down the windows and screamed bloody murder going 70 mph down the I5. All of which I’m sure create an entertaining spectacle for other drivers. All in an attempt to keep my stupid brain from sleepy-nap-highway-time. Coffee only works in quantities of 64oz or more, but even then I’m riding a fine line: I need enough to stay awake, but not so much that I give myself a heart attack and careen into oncoming traffic.
But none of it keeps me awake. I’m not sure what part of driving 70mph in a steel death trap alongside other steel death traps on a concrete highway seems like a good place to fall asleep. What part of any of those stimuli says to my brain, “Just a few minutes wouldn’t hurt.” And so I have to distract myself with things. With podcast, and books on tape, and music. I, of course, sing loudly. I have to take frequent stops, to stretch my legs.
Basically my brain is a dog. As long as it’s entertained and distracted, it behaves well. Too much boredom and it starts chewing on the upholstery.
This is all for the safety of you all. It has nothing to do with true entertainment and everything to do with public safety. I have friends who love driving. Friends who, “Just need to clear their heads” and so they drive. When I drive, people must think I’m someone who, “Just needs to clear the roads.”
I’m not the worst driver. Certainly some indigenous person on a remote island who has never seen a car in their life is bound to be worse. Hopefully.
I do try. I will say, I’ve never been in a car accident where I’m the knucklehead not paying attention. I’ve never gotten a ticket and I’ve only been pulled over once, for an expired registration. Whether that’s because of actual skill or sheer, absolute luck, I can’t be certain. But those facts don’t lie. Some part of my mechanical driving must be satisfactory.
So if you see me slapping myself on the highway, windows down, blasting This American Life while doing my best impersonation of William Wallace’s battle cry, don’t be alarmed: it’s just a normal day of driving for me.