Ode to the road

Hit and Miss #24

I’ve been driving now for four years. Not long, but long enough to have some disconnected, disjointed thoughts about it.

On Friday, my dad and I drove from Ottawa to Waterloo. He drove up in the morning and we split the drive back in the evening.

It was one of our classic Ottawa drives: fiddling with the radio as our preferred stations passed in and out of range, stopping at Kingston’s Division Street rest stop mecca, finding ways to keep each other awake as we passed by familiar landmarks.

Though we didn’t take Highway 7 on this trip, that trip, too, is loaded with ritual and routine. My parents took us on many road trips when we were younger—my experience of Canada is essentially one of road trips, an experience of viewing the unfamiliar exterior landscape from the all too familiar interior of the family car.

I’ve been griping recently about sidewalk clearing in downtown Ottawa, where it’s the city’s responsibility to clear sidewalks. The city’s methods aren’t great at clearing down to bare pavement, so the sidewalks become a mush of slush and ice. I dream of Sweden’s pedestrian-prioritized snow removal.

As you may know, I love walking and am a proud pedestrian. When I learned to drive, my driving instructor capitalized on this, teaching me to keep in mind what I fear about cars as a pedestrian. By focusing on the most vulnerable, I improved my driving in general. (This is a lesson commonly practised in inclusive design.)

Much as I love driving, I often feel conflicted as I drive. Its environmental costs are huge, and it feels a bit arrogant for me to hop in a car when I could adjust my life to better accommodate walking or busing.

In an excellent article on learning to drive, Adam Gopnik touches on these points in the context of a broader ode to driving as a democratic act. While I don’t see myself continuing to drive much in the long-term—I doubt I’ll ever buy a car—Gopnik summarizes well what I enjoy so much about it.

That’s all for this week! All the best for the week ahead.

Sent on February 18th, 2018.