On Driving

These last few months, I’m driving significantly more than I ever used to and for the most part I quite love it.  The only major exception is my susceptibility to exceptional eye strain.  

(In the fall of 2018 when I finally developed a conviction that I had some kind of undiagnosed eye problem, my new optometrist, Dr. Ira Krumholtz diagnosed me with  something called “Esophoria” which is a kind of “Binocular instability” or “binocular vision dysfunction” (BVD) or “Heterophoria.” ((Different available texts on this particular eye problem use differing terminologies)). There are several “Clinical types of heterophoria”—“esophoria” being one of them, which means, to be more specific, as the American International Medical University puts it, an eye disorder “characterised by a tendency of the eyes to deviate inwards.” Undiagnosed, untreated, in its prime, and exceptionally exacerbated by driving, this led to a lot of vertigo, inexplicable panic attacks, blurriness, and other related symptoms.[1] My hypothesis was that I have vertical hypophoria. Dr. Krumholtz said “you were close!” as he was checking my eyes and making his own much more informed judgement.)

Thanks to specially made prism glasses my eyes don’t spaz out nearly as much as they used to although late at night when I drive they do begin to feel a little like they’re headed for senility. Fortunately, thus far, it’s simply one of those manageable discomforts like a headache and does not lead to spells of vertigo and panic attacks.

(“Knock on wood,” as the cliché expression goes.

“I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious”[2])

My daily driving trek isn’t so much when compared to so many other drivers. Say for example, truckers who drive cross country. (Recently I flirted with the idea of working as a cross-country truck driver. I imagine in some ways it could be a rather peaceful job and, for geography and infrastructure fans such as myself, a great way to grow acquainted with the marvel of America’s roadways!)

But consider how much I drive these last few months since my wife and I moved from East Windsor to Basking Ridge, and how spoiled I was before this move when for all my working life I never had to drive much more than 10 minutes from wherever I lived. My longest drive is to Mercer County Community College, which, if I take the longest route, and if Google map is to be trusted, amounts to approximately 51.7 miles one way. When traffic is at its worst (on I-287 around South Bound Brook, between Princeton and New Brunswick on US Route 1or in Hillsborough along US Route 206) driving one way, in can take up to roughly two hours.

The quickest it ever took me to get home clocked in at about 65 minutes–via I-95. I had evaded I-95 mostly out of fear and anxiety but at the insistence of my former professor and boss, Dr. Leonard Winogora, who always encourages considering the multitude of possible perspectives, encouraged me to give the route a try. (Plus, the Effexor I take for my anxiety, along with my therapy sessions have reduced my anxiety significantly making I-95 less intimidating…in fact, now a pleasure!) There are no traffic lights on this surprisingly pleasant interstate highway and a majority of the cars drive around 90 miles per hour (this is despite the constant reminders along the interstate that the speed limit is 65 miles per hour) so it does accelerate my drive. (Interestingly, I’ve yet to catch a cop pull over more than one car. In contrast, along U.S. 206, I-287, and U.S. 1 the cops seem much more abundant and pro-active.)   

One of my favorite things about longer distance driving is the opportunity to listen to audio books which is about as new to me as all this driving is. I don’t prefer listening to audio books over reading because I like to read very slowly, looking things up and annotating along the way but as fate has granted me this unique window of time and as I’ve got a very long to-read list, I figure, why not? On occasion I do like to “shake things up” and listen to some music—The Dire Straits, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, The Bee Gees– but I find myself actively craving forms of premium bookish prose when I drive. If my mind is a car, then prose is its fusion energy source. I do enjoy listening to radio broadcasts when they cover important live events such as Robert Mueller III or Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before congress, should they be happening as I’m driving, but otherwise, audio-books it is. (Currently I’m juggling the essays of Montaigne, Phillip Lopate, Leslie Jamison, and Swann’s Way by Proust)

Sometimes, on very rare occasions, I drive in utter silence out of extreme desire to just simply think… free from distraction of other peoples’ words or music but typically I prefer my silence only when walking. Otherwise silence often makes me feel isolated and detached from society. This is even the case when I drift to sleep. I think because I associate driving, sleeping and silence with death. I used to think excessively and uncontrollably about death while driving, and while trying to sleep (so much so while trying to sleep that the only thing which would offer me even the slightest relief was liquor.) As for silence…are not silent in our deaths? That is, unless you want to suggest that by no longer “existing” we can’t quite be considered therefore, “silent.” But even then, in a sense, death and silence have their connections. Enough on death for now!  

Something else I love about driving is the immersion of geography that accompanies it and makes it an aesthetic thrill! I-78 West and I-287 North I love especially in this respect because the stunning mountain views cause me to forget I’m in New Jersey… at least the New Jersey I’ve known most of my life.

You see, I’m used to the more built up and densely populated suburbia of central New Jersey which exists roughly as this nugget outlined by Princeton and Trenton towards the west, Burlington to the south of those towns, Howell to the east, South Brunswick roughly to the north of Howell. In some of these towns there’s bits of open space but even then… the geography is static, stale, and flat…like someone who does not care how he or she dresses. In contrast, where Ashley and I live now is a less built up sort of suburbia…less “pure” suburbia even, and more rural…ish… suburbia.

In autumn, with the super abundance of wooded areas, the trees make this part of the state we live in now look as though we live within the sepia, amber, gamboge, auburn colored feathers of a giant, mysteriously Tuscan-color-paletted male peacock! Contrasting this part of the state with the collection of little cities between… roughly …North Brunswick and Paterson (on the west side) and between the east of those two cities and New York City… it is like putting late September next to mid February (someplace with a temperate climate, that is) and weaving the two together or like a patch of rainbow stimulating and opening the mind, reiterating the value of diversity in an abstract painting. There is even something about it that is quite like romantic sex…the way two distinctly different bodies touch and blend within each other. (Perhaps this is why there has so often been something about autumn which rather turns me on…)

Alas, night hides this spectacle… but provides means at least for another. On US Route 1 around New Brunswick and Edison or on the New Jersey Turnpike (most of all around Newark and Manhattan though I don’t drive that way!) the highways are extravagantly lit up with streetlights, headlights of cars, and lights of buildings. On interstates I-95 and I-287, free of traffic lights as they are, the cars simply blaze on freely; this gives the night a most electric, exciting, alive, uninhibited, celebration-like feel. It reminds me of New Years of Eve or when I was in my late teens and early twenties and exceptionally nocturnal, staying up, in my prime, for the sun to rise. In fact, it reminds me now of when I worked at the bar on Lincoln Road in South Beach, Miami back in the autumn of 2005 during the night shift which started…was it at 4 or 8pm (?) and stretched on till sometimes as late as 5 am. The bar didn’t close until roughly 3 am. That was when we did much of the cleaning up. It was exceptional money! Along with my hourly wage—even supposing it was minimum wage…I earned, on a good Friday or Saturday night, sometimes over a hundred dollars more in tips. Maybe once even nearly two hundred? It was probably the most money I’ve made thus far my in my life. I also can’t help but be reminded of this digital clock radio my grandmother gave me for…I think it was my third birthday; the color of the digital numbers as I remember leaned towards sapphire and this is the only light I can recall in my bedroom late at night when I was supposed to go to sleep and this light seemed so mystical to me and so all consuming. I remember actually being fixated on it! 

Driving, I do realize, is not pure joyride where I forget about the rest of the world and its drama while hiding in some highway hypnosis induced meditative state. This was reiterated to me by fate recently as I had a tire blowout and my car began to skid. Thankfully I was able to steer it onto the shoulder of I-78 West without causing further damage or hurting anyone. For a few seconds, as I felt myself lose control of the car I worried I might crash into someone and die. I thought of how merciless the universe ultimately is with the multitude of cruelties and sufferings in life, along with the various manifestations of inevitable mortality. (Will it ever not be inevitable? Could medical breakthroughs ever so greatly defy all we think we know that we can defy mortality and even resurrect the dead? Some may say “no” but nobody knows what the hell might happen a millisecond from now. There is lightning which might strike that the meteorologists cannot predict. Earthquakes and tsunamis hit. Not that every mystery of fate’s chance turns out so bad. Sometimes a million dollars might come a person’s way—lottery, unexpected inheritance, business finally skyrocketing, random acts of kindness even! All these seemingly unpredictable disasters and miracles…) Anyway, this feeling of shock that came over me as I tried to safely stop my car was brutal and reminds me of that tragic afternoon at the hospital with my father, visiting, and watching as, seemingly out of nowhere, (we had been in the midst of conversation I believe) he was unable to breath, seemed to slip into some kind of state of shock, his abdomen drastically distended (advancing from toxic megacolon to rupture of his colon as it would essentially be explained) and then he ended up in a coma until we terminated his life support and watched him die (ultimately from complications due to antibiotic-associated Clostridium deficile colitis ((C.diff))).   

This recent incident with my car got me thinking of how little I know about things pertaining to cars in general, and that if I am to take such joy in driving it would make sense to learn the world of driving and cars. I did not even know whether or not I had a spare tire! I do not know how to replace a tire with a spare. I did not know that people working for the state drive up and down the highways and, upon discovering folks like me on the shoulder of the interstate, pull over and see if there is need for any help. And while I knew to call AAA I didn’t know if I was also supposed to call my insurance company even though it wasn’t an accident. (Or maybe I knew but in the heat of a little anxiety was thinking a little unclearly?) It is not that I am incompetent or that I don’t care to learn such things. It’s that I just don’t think to learn certain things and sadly also don’t always have the time or know how to manage my time in order to learn this or that or even run certain errands. In any event, of all the interactions with my father (since I did bring him up)…where I wish I’d paid more attention to that which he taught me, certainly among them, I recall the time he and I pulled over while on Route 33 on the border of Hamilton and Robbinsville, New Jersey, and he tried to show me how to put on a spare tire. At that time, alas, I did not care to learn. Perhaps, if ghosts do in fact exist, my father, (who actually did not believe in ghosts), would appear in his unique ghostly form and say “do you see now that I loved you?” and “I wish you had paid attention.” I’d like to also think, as he was an artist—a photographer and painter—who told me, in the midst of his final words, not to give up on my writing, that he would proud that I have not given up and that I wrote a little tribute, running quite late I admit, to him and his sentiments in this regard.  

[1] “Heterophoria : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Management”; December 10, 2017; American International Medical University; https://www.aimu.us/2017/12/10/heterophoria-symptoms-causes-diagnosis-and-management/)

[2] Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground

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