Considering how much time I spend operating one, my lack of knowledge about cars is fairly astounding. The school year starts today in Sioux Falls and soon at South Dakota State, meaning I’ll spend more time than I can easily count on the road and in the air, traveling back and forth and here and there. It’s part of my job as a sports reporter – a big part of it, sometimes.
Take the back half of last week, for example. (And I write this despite fully acknowledging that travelogues are arguably as uninteresting as retroactive play-by-play of a round of golf or a hand of poker. That’s never stopped me before.) On Thursday evening, I drove 50 miles from Sioux Falls to Brookings to attend a two-hour football practice. I made the return trip, too. Friday morning, it was off to Minneapolis to cover a Vikings preseason game. That’s 4 hours each way. I got home at 4 a.m. About six hours later, I was headed to a muddy field near a town called Renner to run an obstacle-laden 5K.
Certainly, not every three-day span from September to June is like that, but many of them are.
And I generally love it.
Every hour on the road is an hour not spent behind a desk, hoping the loud voices will quiet enough for me to think or wondering if other people view me as being busy enough. I don’t consider myself a hyperactive person, but I’m definitely active to the point that physical movement increases by ability to think.
Unimpeded thought is one of the major perks of so much windshield time. Like most of you, I’m bombarded with work tasks and home chores and kids and text messages and financial statements when moving at less than 75 mph. I enjoy that, too – it’s the crux of life, essentially, and more real than watching the world go by from inside a car. It’s just that being on the open road and by yourself seems to release your mind from the leash of responsibility. Speed is a part of that. It forces you to pay a fair amount of attention to what’s going on in front of you – more so than, say, walking – and is symbolic of breaking free.
Sometimes, I’ll start a drive with a specific train of thought in mind, a mental assignment – perhaps coming up with a line of questioning for a set of interviews. But usually I’ll just roam. It would be fascinating to study the behavior of the human brain when it’s locked inside a moving car, when it’s allowed to roam rather than being forced to handle one specific item. (Cue reader pointing out the existence of such a study.) I have a feeling we’d find that people are more creative and better able to recall memories when behind the wheel on an open road.
When the brain is getting sick of running laps? Throw on some music or – better yet – a podcast. I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I don’t get to read as much as I’d like is because of all the travel. Same with my relative lack of time of television. The podcast allows me to be entertained or stimulated or informed while on the go. Seemingly every person in America has their own podcast yet, in my opinion, they’re undervalued as tools to promote everyday learning. They’re also free, easy to download and not subject to the rules of terrestrial radio in terms of content and availability.
There are drawbacks, of course. The right side of my lower back has a tendency to slip out of place, requiring me to stop and do this twist-and-push trick to alleviate the problem. And my right knee is apt to grow tight. However, it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re in pain so the aches do serve an important purpose. You know all those energy drinks I pound? I got started on that because of all the weird hours in the car. I’m practically a collector, supplementing the known commodities with small-time swills from random, regional gas stations. Sunflower seeds are effective, too, although they’re difficult to stomach early the morning and eat away upper gums like sulfuric acid.
I suppose I could make more phone calls, but unless they’re made for the purpose of staying awake – right, West Coast friends? – it seems counter intuitive. One of the simple joys of driving for work is being alone and doing anything that’s legal within a confined, moving space.
My white Chevy Malibu is like my own private Idaho except it’s not (usually) in Idaho and I’ve never met Keanu Reeves. I wonder if he has a podcast …