Suburban Soliloquy



The price of oil has demolished our budget, particularly in the cost of fueling our cars. Costs have climbed so quickly, we’ve not had the time to sit down and plot the adjustment. Ms Keogh, my more significant other, is determined to go back to work. In the meantime, we are attempting to slow our increasing debt by driving less and driving slowly.

It doesn’t matter how efficiently one’s car consumes gas, as the speed of the vehicle increases it becomes ever harder to punch through the atmosphere’s resistance. The air is not in a hurry to part. By doing less than sixty miles per hour in any car there is a considerable improvement in gas mileage.

It is not in my nature to drive slowly. Driving fast saves time, yet that isn’t the reason I do it. The truth is I thoroughly enjoy driving, preferring to spend more time behind the wheel rather than less. I am entranced by the sensations that come with motion. Yes, with increased speed comes increased risks of injury or death, but while risks are reduced as we slow, they are never eliminated. So there is always a tradeoff. For all of us an evaluation of risk is necessary and we must balance the speed we travel with what we find comfortable and can regard as reasonably safe. Often that judgment is impaired by alcohol, by old age, by sleep deprivation, and by arrogance, the too frequent undeserved self-confidence of an incompetent and reckless driver. It is a rare person who doesn’t consider themself a better-than-average driver.

While I drive faster than the posted speeds, I want to believe I’m not exceeding my ability or elevating the risk beyond what I can expect to deal with. I don’t tail. I do signal to change lanes and won’t change lanes suddenly. I allow traffic to merge in front of me. I try to make smooth transitions, not braking suddenly or jolting the car. Unlike most people, I don’t drive in the middle lane on a three-lane roadway when I can keep to the right. But when I come to a curve, if there is no one in front of me, I accelerate. Most of all it is the winding roads and S-curves I adore. How funny I think it when Porsches cannot keep up with me, not because those cars aren’t capable. I’m driving a 2006 Honda Accord Sedan and any Porsche could put me to shame if their drivers showed a little more intestinal fortitude. (My Honda accelerates faster and climbs to a higher top speed than did the 1963 Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond in Goldfinger.) However, I will refrain from racing around corners when I have a passenger. I feel very insecure when I am in a car someone else is driving; I will restrain myself when I have a passenger, concerned as to their comfort.

Driving slower, I don’t know what to do with myself. I see the individual broken white lines drag past. Long gaps form in front of me and in my rearview mirror I see a line of cars packed unsafely close. It is embarrassing; I’m driving like an old man and want to pull over to let them pass. I can imagine their growing anger as they press closer and closer to each other’s bumpers. I’ve become a hazard, creating tension that could cause rash behavior in others. It’s not good.

Driving slowly is an entirely new experience for me. I get on to Interstate 95, a three-lane roadway for which the speed limit is sixty-five miles per hour, and I set the cruise control for fifty-eight or fifty-nine miles per hour. On this stretch of highway I used to drive seventy-five, passing stealthily parked police cars that seemed fine with my speeding past, never pulling out to give me chase.

My journey to work is a distance of thirty-five miles one way, most of it on interstate and highway. There is no public transportation available. Because I work nights, midnight to eight, I don’t have to deal with traffic on my drive to work, but I do catch the rush hour coming home, which takes twice as long. Now that I am driving more slowly, the trip into work, which was usually a thrill I could look forward to, is now a bore. It causes me to yawn incessantly and when I yawn, tears fill my eyes and blind me. I am continually wiping them dry.

The day might come, and maybe very soon, when all driving pleasure will be denied me. Driving might become too expensive. Or it might be traffic laws will become too restrictive, with draconic regulation of speed by little onboard black boxes. Over protectiveness can sap any enthusiasm for life, whether it is driving or the choice of foods we eat – I’ve also been on a restrictive diet due to the level of my cholesterol.

Certainly there will be a time when I am too old, my powers of observation and my reaction time will have decayed until it is no longer safe for me to drive. I shall have to surrender my license when that time comes. I won’t want to be like my father, who had refused to stop driving despite the commands of his doctors. Fender benders grew more frequent with him. It was taking him twenty minutes to negotiate the bottom of the driveway. Every intersection was a challenge misread. He became so dangerous we had to hide his keys, which he saw as an affront to his manhood and he would burst into violent anger.

It was understandable. My father loved his independence. But now that I consider it, my father also loved cars. Back in the 1930s he worked in the Manhattan garage of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the man who would later become the Chevrolet Corvette’s most famous developer. What my father remembered most of this employment was the opportunity to race about in a borrowed Stutz Bearcat.

My love of cars began one cold night when I was fifteen. I accompanied my father to Reedman’s, a local dealership not two miles away and at that time the largest car dealer in the world, with over 100 acres of cars. My father had to regularly take his yellow Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder convertible with turbocharger in for repair. On this particular night, I came along.

Lou, my father, became fed up with yet another repair. When they gave him the estimate, he decided to trade the Corvair, still in their shop, for a new car, a blue 1967 MGB Roadster. He said it would be my car (so long as he could use it when he needed). It snowed that night and by the time the transaction was completed and the car was prepped, there was a slippery inch or two of snow on the ground. There we were, my father and I, tucked into the tiny space of an MGB’s two-seater cockpit. It was snug and suited me. Outside it was dark with a lackadaisical snow falling all about. The interior was dimly lit by the glow of the instrument panel. It was the first car I ever loved. I was filled with pleasure and excitement as my father drove us home, slipping and sliding in the snow; he never seemed out of control or fearful of the road’s condition. In this memory I conflate the protective closeness I had with my father and the intimacy I had with the machine. I have driven over a million miles since then. To this day I can feel nurtured by a car’s interior and have been fond of my cars as if they were pets. But it is a different day and I can no longer jump into a car without having a destination, can no longer drive just to unwind, to think, to enjoy the sensation and passing scenery.
It is too irresponsible and this leaves me sad.

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any
comments or suggestions,
the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon,
as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"