Rendered Fat Content


attributed to Mewar Stipple Master:
Prince Amar Singh Drives His Own Elephant (c. 1695)

" … I will have become a system …"

What am I doing while I'm driving? That's a complicated question that gets down on one knee and begs an equally complicated answer; but I'm a simple man, one more prone to simplification than explication. I hold deep suspicions about anyone attempting to definitely answer that question, for too many moving parts get involved, along with human emotion. No, my friend, that's one terribly, terribly complication question.

I, myself, seem barely present when driving.
The whole operation seems designed to at least create the illusion of full immersion in an out-of-body experience. It's all out there when driving, with little space allowed for self-reflection or, indeed, self. One easily disappears behind the wheel. Most of what anyone actually does there seems preconscious. I question whether any driver remains even half as aware as one might suspect a driver should remain, for things seem to move too fast for conscious judgement. Most, I guess, supplement with the subconscious kind, and that's no problem. The subconscious often seems wise, our unseen and under-appreciated overseer. It senses what our five senses cannot, and often seems remarkably prescient. No, none of us seem that actively involved in the management of our self-conscious selves, but the subconscious preconsciously seems to manage pretty well all by itself. Let's just say that it manages us, and with a usually thoughtful and generous hand.

So, there I am, interpreting signs and responding in kind, barely aware of all I'm doing. I'm driving. It serves as little reassurance to reflect that every other driver around me operates essentially just as reflexively, though their trances often show. I suspect that mine does, too, but I remain gratefully, largely unaware of this. I believe I'm in charge, though the car serves as more than simply an extension of my intentions. It carries its own pretensions. It knows how fast the car ahead of me is going relative to my speed, and it beeps at me as I overtake it. This prompts me to change lanes to the left so that I might quickly pass the malingerer. I, that is, my whole system of which I am a bit player within, work to maintain a flow, a rate of progress I sense as necessary to get where I'm going 'on time.' I might say that I'm driving when I would be much more accurate to insist that 'we're' driving, and, I might be most accurate if I described what we were doing not as driving, but as MakingTime.

Few experiences seem more natively sublime than the essentially transcendent manufacture of time by means of sitting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. We can and do amuse ourselves for hours MakingTime. We continually calculate how we're doing against some ginned-up expectation. "Let's see, I have three hundred miles to go and the speed limit's eighty, when should I arrive, taking into account all the usually complications?" I imprint on about four hours, then set about manufacturing the necessary time, often forgetting the baseline. Four hours from when? The RV driver who hasn't quite accepted that he's not driving a Maserati, clogs up the fast lane, destroying my time. Once past him, I set about trying to make up time lost in passing him. I keep myself constrained, rarely allowing myself to exceed the posted speed limit, but I try to maintain the pace I imagine necessary to—what, win the race?—arrive 'on time', a completely imaginary target. All the way, I'm essentially MakingTime, pulling ahead or falling further behind, I'm never not calculating expected arrival time.

The Schooner's entertainment system often proves to be more of a distraction. Scores of choices on SeriusXM menus, and nary a single appropriate one. I peg-leg it, settling for this or that, listening to a Beethoven Symphony, his fourth in B Flat, and it provides a fine score as the outdoors glide by. But I'm computing, assessing progress, almost obsessed, compulsively dissociating, barely present. I inhabit my imagined future when driving, allowing my preconscious self to manage most of the details. I am far too easily distracted. It's just as well that The Muse focuses her attention on something on her laptop, the passenger seat her temporary office, while I'm quietly MakingTime beside her. Conversation might be beyond me then, for I will have become a system, MakingTime again.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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