David Murdock Column: On driving and being driven while taking in the sights

A couple of times in the last month, my brother and I have gone down to Birmingham.  Usually, I drive myself wherever I go, but Greg always drives when we go somewhere together.  It’s a rare pleasure when I am driven somewhere instead of when I drive.

When driving, one focuses on the road and traffic.  When Dad taught me how to drive decades ago, he was very specific about that point.

Dad was a trucker, a “professional driver” he always said. He always talked about having the “big picture” of the traffic around you.

It was intense;  he’d randomly quiz me about what the other cars around us were doing.  He always knew.  Therefore, I’m still really conscious of where other cars are in relation to me, how fast they’re going (in a general sense – faster than I, slower, or roughly the same speed), etc.

Do I look around?  Yes.  However, on my daily commute, I really only notice things that are out of the ordinary.  I notice more when I’m road-tripping, but I also drive slower then.

David Murdock
David Murdock

So, when Greg drives, I really look around.  By the way, I also am treated to the rare pleasure of leisurely conversations with him on these occasions, but that’s another column entirely.

I am far more likely to notice things – especially those things far off the road – when he drives.

Now, to keep up the driving theme, there’s a fork in this “writing road” here – I could either talk about what I saw on these last couple of trips, or I could talk about the whole experience in total.

I’ve already rejected the subjects of our conversations.  Let’s just say that generally speaking, I’ll notice something new and ask him what it is (if I can’t identify it myself) and (since he travels more than I do) ask him when it was built – those sorts of things.  Usually, he knows.

We’ll also swap memories of various places we pass.  One noteworthy example of that on the last trip is when we passed a Jack’s and I said, “Oh, I’ve had coffee there a few times.”  He asked why I’d stopped at that particular Jack’s, which started a whole story.  (Short version – location.)

So, the big difference for me between driving and being driven is the “sights seen” factor.  Riding with Greg, I’m completely relaxed and taking in all the sights to be seen in a way that I wouldn’t have had I driven myself to Birmingham.  It grows more intense as we get into Birmingham itself – I rarely go there, and there’s lots more to be seen.

Now, I know a lot of y’all who live in Etowah County or hereabouts are wondering what the big deal is.  Lots of folks here either commute to Birmingham every day for work or go down there fairly often for restaurants, movies, or shopping.  I just … don’t.  So, almost anything along the way is new to me.

The strange thing about it is that when I do drive myself down there, I almost always come back with a list of questions for Greg about what I did notice along the way.

On the last trip we made, I started thinking that there must be a “life lesson” in this observation.  The closer we got to home, the stronger the feeling.  By the time Greg dropped me off at my place, the thought was overpowering.

Aside from the obvious one – that there is a great difference between driving and being driven – the next thoughts have to do with the multiple meanings of “to drive” in our culture.  We often speak of “driven” as a descriptor for someone with a strong inner drive to accomplish something (there’s “drive” defined in another context).

To me, “driven” in that context sounds exhausting.  That’s never been my experience about any part of my life in which I might say I’m “driven.”  Those parts of my life are real pleasures.  It’s like going somewhere with my brother when he drives – I get the chance to look around and notice things that I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

It’s also easy to expand this metaphor in many directions.  For example, reading and writing – which I truly love – is a switching back-and-forth of being driven and driving.  In other words, “being driven” is reading and “driving” is writing. I deeply enjoy reading what other people have to say, but I also deeply enjoy writing about what they say.  My journals are filled with my “driving” after “being driven.”

It never ceases to amaze me what I notice when I read.  Just last night, the writer of a book I’m reading mentioned a John Donne poem.  I know I’ve read that poem – I’ve read all of Donne’s poetry – but I’ve never caught on to that particular slant, which caused me to read the whole poem over again That’s a lot like zipping up a side road, by the way, just to see where it goes.

It was like going to Birmingham with Greg driving, seeing new sights along the way and having someone right there to ask about them.

I’ve mentioned before that my life has started to feel like a path – roads are just paved paths.

David Murdock is an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College. He can be contacted at murdockcolumn@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed are his own.       

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: David Murdock on driving and being driven during the journey of life