Joy Rides

Photo of a car driving down a long country road.

In passing with my mind
on nothing in the world

but the right of way
I enjoy on the road by

virtue of the law…

––William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, XI

There are no more guilt-free Sunday drives, no cleanly joyful joy-rides.  And maybe there never were.  Maybe the true joy-ride – that exhilarating freedom for which the Sunday drive is a mere nostalgia – always meant hotwired and liquored, blindfold-reckless, five in the back seat, no permission.  Joy at the expense of others, and often oneself.  Add to this a millennial anxiety of leisure: road rage, roadkill, oil wars, checkpoints, fake bids, kickbacks, chlorofluorocarbons, pain at the pump, car events, ethanol subsidies, lawyers with TV ads, concrete wastelands, shyster mechanics, acid rain, AAA discounts, Big Gulp holders, auto bailouts, rising sea levels, neck braces, chemical factories, floormat recalls, trucker speed, slave wages, vanity plates, CO suicides, eminent domain, carmageddon, baby-on-board, drive-thru universe, blindsided bicyclists.  Whom do our pleasures harm this time?

For as long as the automobile has existed, driving for the sake of pleasure has inspired both glorification and mistrust, often at the same time.  William Carlos Williams loved the heady speed, but was aware of its tendency to fracture vision and comprehension, to make us mis-see (“a girl with one leg / over the rail of a balcony”).  In the new era of interstates, John Steinbeck (and his dog Charley, of course) intrepidly toured the country on a great American road trip, but found that much of the country he had known and loved was gone, destroyed by the speed and convenience that brought him there.  Jack Kerouac championed a freewheeling life on the road, but the road led to liver failure.  These days, ecological concerns make pleasure-driving even more problematic.  How do we weigh our need to cruise against our duty to do no undue harm?

I have always loved driving aimlessly.  On a 5 o’clock freeway I’m in misery.  But on a blue fall day with nothing to do and a gotta-move in my bones, Red House Painters over-loud and the windows down and the heater on, I’ll follow the road where it goes till it gets there, singing into the Doppler.  These days, it’s a guilty pleasure.

This is Peter’s fourteenth post as a Guest Blogger.


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