As I am writing a novel inspired by traffic I find my contemplative powers zoning in on the humble car. Somebody looked at a carriage being pulled by a donkey and thought: “What if I got rid of the poor animal and made the wheels turn through some combustible magic.” A testament to the marvel of human ingenuity.
When I get stuck in writing I sit inside my parked car in the garage and close my eyes. I let myself drift to all experiences that happened to me while holding a steering wheel.
Race, commute, be stuck in traffic, take a leisurely ride, drive aimlessly around, exchange longing glances at the person in the passenger seat, try and fail to fix a flat tire, get pulled over, chase and crash. To call a car transportation is to misunderstand it’s role in your life. A car is a costume. Something you wear like a dress. Or put on like shoes. A person’s ride can tell you a lot about them even before they speak. A splashy sports car tells you the owner is lacking is self confidence. A messy car says my owner is a multitasker. A minivan is the squarely the domain of the soccer mom.
You might think the windshield is a screen from which you can gawk at the world. It carves out the interior into dramatic stage. All the passengers face an invisible audience. The scenes that occupy this space are as varied as the stories on Netflix. Including the chill. Think of all the arguments you had in a car. It’s the forced intimacy. Cars put us in a box with other people we can’t leave. The tension of being forced in the back with people you would otherwise stay away from. BOOM!
And then there are the dense silences. That agonizing game you play to see who can go the longest without uttering a word. The anguished electrical turning around with no outlet.
Don’t forget the joy of being cramped into a tiny space with somebody you yearn to be close to.
I open my eyes and let my fingers caress buttons and knobs. This dash board makes me feel like I am in command. Right here. Right in this space I can set dramatic developments.
In my story a car can separate a person from their surroundings. A portable space that they own. A representation of their individualism, their personal freedom, in a car they get to go where you want to go. They feel that they control destiny. That space provides a false sense of privacy and shelter from the outside world. They might hide in a car from outside danger. The car is a location that includes more than just the interior. Leaning at someone’s car window can be an encroachment into their space. They might remove somebody from their car as an attempt to remove them from their life. The car is violent. The trauma of a car accident can leave physical and psychological scars that last a life time. Vandalising a car isn’t an attack on an object. It’s an attack on the personhood of the owner.
This machine with four wheel captures a primal instinct for the chase. It’s a mundane part of our life that can suddenly become a heart pounding thrill, a weapon, a gadget or a place to hide a secret in.
I haven’t even started the engine.
The movement of a car is poetic. The endless landscape outside the window can open a pathway into your mind. There can be a dramatic inevitability to it. Like the way you can’t escape your fate. That movement can come to a screeching stop. Leaving you stuck in the company of strangers sharing a fate.
Inside this metal box I wish to weave a story as intricate as the breeze and as powerful as youth’s potential. I want it to flow like engine oil leaving skid marks on an endless highway.