When the streets are empty, I’m usually happy.
I spend four or five hours a day in my car and I see the world through the lens of my windshield.
What’s in front of me as I drive through Somerville with a car load of dogs sleeping in the sun, is oftentimes chaos; college kids or new folks who don’t know anything about how to drive here nearly causing accidents at every turn, cyclists flying in and out of traffic expecting the cars to see them, flipping them off when they don’t or worse, dying in the street under the wheel of a work truck after dodging a car door opened into their lane, and drivers purposefully trying to take the cyclists out, squeezing them and crushing them off the road. I see mac trucks that don’t belong on our narrow streets nearly plowing over pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers because they can’t see the people below them, pedestrians with their spines curved toward their phones like lovers, one foot dangling off the sidewalk like a cartoon character off a cliff, to step into the street with or without a crosswalk or cross light, unable to hear the blare of a car horn through their earbuds. I see homeless folks asleep on benches or holding up the wall outside the methadone clinic fly by in a blur of worn out shoes and clothes, receding gums and hairlines, mud or shit splattered pants, and hollowed out, terrified eyes. I see a Trump sticker on a gas guzzling Hummer nearly taking up two lanes at is plows through the city streets, nary a mountainous terrain in sight. I see a Pomeranian puppy that an owner decided not to leash, getting startled and running into the busy road, crushed beneath a tire, its tiny little human girl sobbing and witnessing the carnage.
Everyone yelling. Everyone throwing their hands up. Everyone reaching for racial epithets that they wouldn’t scream if the windows were down. Everyone fingering the trigger.
These are the ways we hurl anger and frustration at one another, slinging it around like mud with a glare, a mouthed or yelled, fuck off, you fucking idiot, without really understanding why we’re doing it. Without really understanding the impact our very intentions have. If our thoughts were tar, we’d all be feathered.
I do it. I throw the frustration and the fear around. You probably do too.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past ten years. A good portion of it isn’t pretty. But most of it is astoundingly beautiful. Every time I get angry, I lose a bit of the beautiful part. The gorgeous epicenter of my life is chipped away when my heart races with fear and anxiety. I try driving meditations. I breathe deeply. I listen to my Audible, the Harry Potter series, over and over, a fairy tale that lulls me. (Jim Dale is a master voiceover artist.) For a long time I listened to talk radio, but that made everything worse.
What hatred and fear we have surrounding us. Both sides of this battle are terrified of losing the things they hold dear. I won’t try to justify who is right or wrong.
Though I know the truth and I think you do too.
I can only know for sure that when I get away from it, when I stop hearing the loop of uncertainty running through the airwaves, this vapid hamster wheel of spun stories, and parsing as Olympic sport, I feel loads better. I feel like myself again. I don’t fear that all the gays (me!) will have our rights taken away or that millions of people who live and work and build lives in this country will be stripped from their homes, rounded up like cattle and dumped in the place they risked their lives to leave. I don’t fear that racism and hatred are seeping into the cracks in this country’s infrastructure and that hidden and silent monster in our closet was just given permission by the overlord himself to cross the threshold of our bedrooms, where we’re lost in dreams of a better tomorrow, to attack us from behind. I don’t fear these things when I turn off the news and the social media.
When I put my phone down, better yet, when I leave it at the house or in the glove box, life feels like life again and time slows. Time becomes my friend and time makes the colors more vibrant.
This morning, I left the house early with my books and my camera and my notebooks in hand. I drove the quiet streets of Somerville, thankful that all the new students were still in bed sleeping off their PBR hangovers. The cyclists and I shared the road. The barista and I shared a joke. The guys at the car wash who worked their asses off to get Misty, the cattle dog’s, hair out of the upholstery in the back of my car, laughed when I told them I walked dogs for living. I laughed too. It’s a beautiful thing. Then when they handed me back the keys said, “We tried our best, hon.” I didn’t feel offended because they weren’t calling me hon in a mansplainy, arrogant, hey little lady kinda way. They called me hon the way my Pop did when he spoke to someone who was working class like him, more sister, less mister. I shook their hands and stepped into the car feeling another layer of unreality peel away. Then I turned on the radio and Bohemian Rhapsody was playing. There are no rules against dancing while driving, at least none that I know.
So today, before most of Somerville woke up, I took a drive, snapped some pictures, read a book, wrote for a while, chatted with the car wash guys and the baristas, sang at the top of my lungs to Queen, and forgot about this fucking election and the unrepentant fear coursing the veins of our country right now.
I felt human for the first time in a long time.
Then I saw something different. I saw an old woman being helped down the steps of a church by a young man, his elbow crooked for her and his hand at the small of her back. He said something funny and she laughed and forgot about falling down the steps. Then I saw a little girl on her dad’s shoulders, her tiny hands cupping his cheeks. I saw the blue sky and the look of utter surprise and elation on my dog’s face when I walked into the house and my wife’s relieved, sleepy smile as she sipped from her cup before kissing me with coffee lips.
I’m not offering a solution for what ails the world right now, but I will say that I found a tiny fucking bit of solace and freedom in NOT picking up my phone for most of the day. I think I’m going to try it more often. That and breathing. And writing. And taking pictures. And making jokes. And kissing my wife.