I am grateful for car rides. Just the other day I was remembering Sunday drives from my childhood, the whole family piled into the car, only a brief argument about who got stuck in the middle. Me. The burden of being the youngest. Erma Bombeck said never have more children than you have car windows. She was right. Sometimes those drives would be quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts, and other times the conversation was lively, stories spilling, one into another, everyone having a chance to be heard.
The car is a perfect place for conversation, for sharing. There are no interruptions aside of the driver keeping her eyes on the road and doing her best not to careen into the ditch. You can share the really big stuff in a car, the hard bits, the deep stories that take a few hundred miles to get at. With no eye contact, other than a few glances, you can really hear, listen to the words, the tone, to get to the guts of what you are talking about. It’s a captive audience, literally. No one is going to jump from a moving car to avoid a particular topic. There is an ease in road trip conversation with its inherent privacy and intimacy.
My sister and I did a road trip not so many years ago, from Kelowna, BC to Fort Frances. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and listened to each other’s take-away from childhood, differing in some perspectives and mirrored in others. Our sisterhood was refreshed with common stories and memories, our uniqueness springing from a shared starting place.
A car ride conversation is a bit like being in the psychiatrist’s office, lying on her couch, she sitting behind you, out of view, probably because she’s writing her grocery list or playing Sudoku, but you don’t know that. You have to trust she’s paying attention. She probably is. And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s all about getting the “stuff” from deep inside out to where you can see it.
Maybe we could solve some of the world’s problems if people went for a car ride. Trump and Kim Jong-un would have to drive around the planet several times before they stopped spitting at each other and got to the truth. Israel and Palestine could stand to do some listening, each taking a turn. A car ride might be perfect for that.
I don’t mean to make light of serious matters, but I’m not sure it should be so difficult to get along, to see another person’s perspective, even those at cross-purposes to our own. I watched a film not long ago about the difficulties between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, the centuries old siege pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another. The leaders of the opposing “teams” ended up in a car together due to weather and the premise was they would begin to understand the opposing side, which led to a calming of the conflict. Made perfect sense to me. You can’t hold a grudge for long in a car; not the way you can when you’re hiding behind walls and rhetoric.
I’d love a car ride today. I’d like to escape and have a conversation of the heart. William Butler Yeats said it right: “Come, Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” What he was really saying was, let’s go for a car ride.