When I was 2, I knew my hand turn signals; at 3, I could perform the road sobriety test; in grade school, for my book reports, I read AAA TripTiks; and every Halloween, I dressed up as a race car driver, culminating in a win for "Scariest Face" the year I went as Richard Petty. In my teens, I immersed myself in "highway lit," including Kerouac's On the Road, Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, even the Nietzsche-rooted philosophy of super-driving, Autobahn Über Alles.
The first car I ever drove was my father's Chevy Impala coupe. A princely machine with massive doors and a trunk designed with the big-game poacher in mind. Its hood was of such proportions that a plot of arable land the same size would have provided a nice living for an energetic family of dirt farmers.
Under the hood lay a fuel-wasting, ozone-assaulting, eight-cylinder brute of a power plant that was completely unnecessary for a man of my father's driving temperament -- that is, unhurried, non-vengeful and modest of gas pedal. He died before televised high-speed chases could infuse him with the proper spirit of the road.
My first few years behind the wheel, I amassed a number of traffic tickets. Speeding, mostly. I'd appear in court and there my "privileges" would be suspended for 30, 60, 90 days.
Between the tickets and a spate of accidents, my insurance premiums grew to look more like ransom demands. In 1983, in order to minimize both my speed and any damage I might do, my insurance carrier agreed to continue coverage only if I drove one of those little Shriners cars.
Have I ever driven drunk? Sadly, a few times, yes. But more often gaily.
So far in my life, I've owned 12 vehicles, held four jobs that consisted primarily of driving, have taken five cross-continent driving vacations of more than 6,000 miles each and, business and pleasure combined, probably logged more than half a million miles on the road. And I still don't have to go to the bathroom.
What is it about driving that so energizes me? Is it the allure of propping up sexy feudal Middle Eastern dynasties with my gas purchases? Is it that driving is the only way to meet tollbooth chicks? Could it be that outside a car I'm never quite sure where to set my cup? Let's leave it a mystery. Like Old Navy advertising.
Like I said, I was born to drive. The day I stop is the day I die. With any luck, you won't be my passenger that day. ©
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