Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What She's Thinking About When She's Alone in the Car Thinking


Usually, she tries to think about the road. Ordinarily she listens. To NPR, to which she is utterly addicted. Sometimes she fantasizes that she is working for NPR. Or with NPR, with its brilliant reporters, producers and commentators. Maybe she's assisting with or producing a show for Ira Glass. Or Terry Gross. Or Bob Boilen. Or Robin Young. Or, Wait, Wait!, Peter Sagal. And Carl Kasell, who's taken her under his wing, not only records dulcet-toned voice messages for her answering machine, but personally delivers them to her home, and stays long enough to personally answer at least one phone call. She wonders how long he'd have to stick around. She reminds herself to keep the fridge stocked with his favorite crudités.

She speculates that perhaps she's been away from the office for too long. No one, with whom she might bounce around an idea, sits within earshot (or footsteps) of her kitchen cubicle. Her mind is beginning to atrophy, working from home. This would never happen at NPR.

She looks at the great green sign hovering over the highway, announcing the number of miles to the next exit, and questions how well it's mounted onto the steel tubular mast arm, and whether or not the tubular supports have been compromised, corroded by exposure to the elements, like rain and natural wind gusts. She considers the stress of wind shears, cracks in truss connections, welded joints and anchor rods. Have the high strength threaded nuts and bolts, by which the sign is pinned to its mast, been installed properly? What's to prevent these fasteners from being stripped and loosened? How tired is the sign? Who manufactured the bolts? How shoddy is the overall work? If that sign drops from its arm, she concludes, it becomes the supreme guillotine.

She imagines it slicing her car in half. Or worse.

And then there are the bridges. She doesn't want to go there: pondering the percentage of time truckers ignore load carrying limits, or, given state and federal budget constraints, how often these structures are actually inspected. She recalls certain steel deck truss failures and mulls over the integrity of design, the condition of the piers and cantilevers, reinforcements and anything else that might have anything whatsoever to do with preventing the bridge from its almost certain doom of sudden collapse.

The wooden crosses on the side of the highway unnerve her, but she reckons they're a sober reminder for her son, who, within little more than a year's time, will acquire his driver's license. She reminds herself not to remind him of this. Then she reminds herself to remember not to remind him of this. Perhaps he'll forget that he wants to learn how to drive.

She doesn't like the guy in front of her who is on his cell phone and swerving from lane to lane. She beeps her horn. Wake the HELL up! 

She gets irritated by the big Peterbilt trucks that box her in. She wonders if the trucks might hit the overhead signs, or blast them from their nuts and bolts by the sheer force of truck-induced wind gusts. And if the guy on the cell phone, weaving in and out of three lanes, might be right behind the truckers. Hmm.

But now she's slipping off the highway, right at the exit, the sky is ablaze in blue, and the static crackling of radio interference has subsided. Composer Philip Glass fades back in. On Point. The furling and unfurling movements of Symphony No. 9 illuminate the airwaves, and her mind wanders off to the fields and the geese, pushing, flapping, harder and harder, determined to lift themselves from the grassy glebe. Suddenly, they are off, in flight, in harmony, with springtime's cerulean breeze. And in the driveway, she listens, and dares not turn off the engine.

41 comments:

  1. first in best dressed...this is a great piece that drug (dragged??)/lured me in esp with the NPR stuff. I have recently become a listener of the broadcast especially 'This American Life' which I love...
    Anyway content and common denominators aside (i always wonder about the huge crane above my street coming crashing down one day...on rush hour traffic), good descriptive work about how the mind wanders when alone..that internal conversation we all have
    oh..and springtime's cerulean breeze..i likee :)

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    1. I've been an NPR junkie for years, Dan. Just can't find better programming.

      Oh, those cranes scare me. We've had a few crashes in NYC. They're always crashing. They crash everywhere! Ha. Hope that crane of yours is stable. If I'd have seen one of those demolisher things today, I'm sure it would have made its way into this piece. Lord, I'm amazed at how much of my mind is anywhere but on the road when I'm out and about. Autopilot. Somehow, I get from here to there and back. And usually don't remember how!

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    1. Sabine- You know those bridges, don't you? There all over, not just in the States. Ugh.

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  3. Hello Jayne,

    perhaps you remember, who I am. Hope so. I like your post and blog. I follow now more precisely.

    How do you do? Can I do something for you? Let me know please! I would be your fool / clown even, but it will not be long funny ;-D

    You are worthy. Do you question? Please not! Why? What is this profile photo? How can you go out anymore, without directly being surrounded by admirers??? Laugh please :-) For me.

    Yours supportingly

    O. Klastat

    www.no-extremes.de

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    1. Hello, Olivier- Yes I remember you. Glad you like this piece.

      Ha! I don't need any clowns, thank you. I have a couple of those at home. They ask me the same thing about the profile photo: "Ma, who took that photo? What are doing taking pictures of yourself?!" Trust me, those clowns think I'm pretty weird.

      Laughing!! :)

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  4. I wonder what percentage of what humanity as a whole imagines is disaster and what percentage is outrageous fortune.

    May you meet with no supreme guillotines, my dear. And may there always be a superfluity of favored crudites.

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    1. I promise, Suze, I'm not always carrying such gloomy thoughts. The road just struck me that way this morning. And yesterday. And the day before that... heh!

      Stocking up! :)

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  5. Ah, see there? You have demonstrated so clearly how the right music can spirit a person off, away from life's daily aggravations.

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    1. Oh, Susan, thank you for reminding to add the Soundcloud for Glass's Symphony 9!!! Ack--completely forgot to throw it in there at the end of the post. And I can't believe I just remembered how to do it! :)

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  6. This is so great Jayne. I am often amazed at how far a field my mind wanders while driving, and this piece captures that spirit.

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    1. Hey Tim, thanks. Scary isn't it? How do we get from A to Z when our minds wander like that? It's magic! (And we thought driving and texting was dangerous.) ;)

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  7. Isn't it amazing how our mind can wander and how far it can travel in an instant? I can go through an entire lifetime in the span of 30 seconds.

    Another wonderful slice of your day beautifully served up for us!

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    1. A whirlwind of neurotic thinking ordinarily lasts much more than 30 seconds for me. At least it feels like it! (Not that your thinking falls in that category, Bill. ;)) But for me, I don't know why, when I get in a car with an unfocused mind--other than the road!--thoughts tend to venture to the dark side. Hmm...

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  8. Ha..i love seeing other perspectives ...being a photographer at heart, i turn every moment into a snapshot, always framing things...the only reason i bought my phone cuz of the 8mp camera :)

    I haven't owned a car in several years but when I fly, I don't wig out...although I cannot look at the wing of a plane and remember the Twilight Zone episode haha...

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    1. 8 mps! Nice. Who needs a camera?!

      Years ago, when I moved to NYC, and then Boston, I was without car for many years. It was wonderful. And because I love, love taking a train, I didn't really ever want to own another car. But the burbs tend to force that purchase. Ack.

      When I fly, I can't look at anything. Just give me a Bloody Mary. ;)

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  9. I saw the white crosses along the high-way when I was driving in Montana some years ago. Don't think I've seen them in any other state I've visited. Is there any research showing that the crosses have a positive impact on accident statistics? Or is it just another bizarre invention from the Republicans?

    Great symphony >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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    1. That's an interesting question, Cold. I looked into it a bit and didn't find any research supporting the kind of impact the cross markers might have on drivers. But it's common here in the States to see crosses, usually white, on highways and side roads marking the spot where someone was killed in a car accident.

      And in my case, I tend to take note of them, and point them out to the kids (Oh, MA!-- Aren't I a drag?). I can tell you, though, that in the States, car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. Alcohol and cell phones up the ante. So my kids think I"m a drag, that's fine, as long they understand just how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel. Never mind drinking and texting. No daydreaming!! Ha.

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  10. yes, yes, yes to the music. on the road with music (and unfortunately the crazy drivers) MPBN 9 AM—a poem, birthdays of notables or whatever else "on this day" and morning classical......and jayne, let's go to cuba by ship if that day ever comes!!!!

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    1. MPBN, yes! My family has had a place in Maine for 20+ years, so I've listened in. But when we're by the lake, it's our CDs that play all day. Pepe Romero, Jose Feliciano, The Gypsy Kings... hmm just realized that a good chunk of our selection is Spanish. Cuba by ship, absolutely. That country's been calling me for years... I'd go to Cuba anyway I could but by ship would be marvelous... if from our ports that day shall come. ;)

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  11. oh i loved this post. amazing how many fears we can pack into a mile of driving. amazing how many things could happen to us but rarely does. but still i find myself often bracing for that next shoe to fall (and when i say shoe, i mean bridge collapse or . . .)

    my kids tease me about when they started to drive, i'd say "oh no, don't take shepherd road, there were three accidents on that stretch last year" or, "you are taking highway 87? do you know how many fatalities that road had last month?" (stay home and live in the nice bubble your mother made for you!)ha!

    sherry

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    1. I call this preoccupation in the car "auto-neuroses"--but I think this kind of neuroses overcomes me anytime I'm in a moving anything. Particularly airplanes. :/

      In your part of the world, Sherry, with those long stretches of road, and cold, snowy winters, I can imagine that car accidents are not an infrequent occurrence. (You've been there.) I have a friend from South Dakota and she's lost several members of her family in accidents. I'd feel even more inclined to keep my kids in that comfy little bubble for as looong as possible. But alas, we must free them! Aaahhh!

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  12. Yes, I can imagine your being... distractable. If I were sitting next to you in a car, I'd hope to be seated behind the wheel, myself. :)

    The PC I'm at currently doesn't let me get to Soundcloud, so I'll have to guess -- this is Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Movement III? Interesting choice -- not the movement most people think of. Now suddenly I'm distracted!

    I've told this story before, although not here... When I was a kid, I read a comic book which featured aliens who'd come to Earth to research our habits. One feature of our life absolutely terrified them: "They get into these heavy steel projectiles and launch themselves at one another on these long paved strips to play a game. The object of the game is to come as close as possible to every other projectile they encounter, without actually making contact." After I read that, I was a nervous wreck of a passenger for months.

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    1. Is this why my hubby never lets me drive? Ha.

      Were you and Ray Bradbury friends, JES? I love that image of a little boy reading comic books. I remember my brothers loved comics. I don't know if kids read them so much today. Adolescent boys like the graphic books, I can tell you that, but I don't think my son has ever picked up (or shown any interest in) a comic book. And of course aliens would see us as throwing ourselves at each other in these steely projectiles of ours--we don't need to be in space to see that, we can see that from the road! Ack.

      Symphony No. 9 is an original Symphony by Glass. (I can't think of Beethoven without thinking of Fantasia--Glass's Symphony is pretty fantastical, too.) The 3rd movement is thrilling (well, the entire symphony is thrilling), and I think that the music, perhaps, added to my general highway anxiety. There are a couple of good articles in the Village voice about Glass's premiere of his Symphony at Carnegie Hall. And its doing busters on iTunes. That's pretty cool. ;) (I'll try to come back w/the links for you.)

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    2. Sheesh. I guess composers have it easy: as writers, we face the sophomore-slump syndrome ("Yawn... not as good as his/her [insert name of first book]!"). Composers apparently just gallop along until crashing into the 9th-symphony wall. :)

      Friends with Ray Bradbury?! I'm going to take that as a compliment about my nature, my preoccupations, my work, whatever -- rather than a suggestion that Bradbury (who was in his 30s when I first arrived on-scene) and I might have grown up together or something.

      I sometimes borrowed comic books from a cousin, who had boxes and boxes and boxes of the things -- brand new. But he died in a motorcycle accident, and his mother (in grief, I guess) got rid of all of it. Talk about a lost family treasure. I could've had one of those rock-star "everyday hero" moments on Antiques Roadshow.

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    3. Who knew, huh? At least Glass has gotten through his 10th, and hopefully we'll get to hear it soon.

      Sad about your cousin. Seems his beloved comics should have been handed over to a family member. Now, some unrelated person who picked them up at a seconds gets to be the rock star. :(

      Haha! I know that you and Mr. Bradbury are at least a full generation apart, and after I hit the publish button I almost went back to write another comment, but heck, it's Bradbury, in one of his dimensions (or yours!) you and he can be any age you want, but if you elected not to be the same age, I'll bet he'd at least have enjoyed taking you to the carnival with him. Think he's still up for that? ;)

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  13. Here in good old Pittsburgh and western Pa. we have more bridges than anywhere in the country, don't even ask what i think about when i'm stuck in traffic on them, i try not to let my mind wander to much but then of course i think back to all the dumb shit i've done, freebasing in my old apartment years ago comes to mind, things i didn't think twice about and then shrug and turn up the radio.

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    1. The thing is, Kono, all that dumb shit we once did willingly, having full control (until, of course, we lost it) over what we'd do and where we'd go with it. The thing about bridges and other infrastructure maintained by government is that we have no control of it. We don't know who's out there inspecting or constructing or maintaining, and whether or not they give a damn. Imagine trying to avoid every bridge in Pittsburg? That's your only control there. Ack. ;)

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  14. My wife needs to have the radio on when she drives, I like it off... unless I am listening to NPR. Although we recently figured out how to pipe out i-pod through the car radio and are listening to "This American Life" on long trips.

    But my wife and I honestly do consider the "is this trip really necessary" question if driving somewhere is optional. There are inherent risks to driving and not driving does reduce that risk.

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    1. Robert- I love Ira Glass. Have you heard The Moth? I'm having a lot of NPR driveway moments lately.

      One of the many reasons I struggle with the suburbs is the car issue. We pretty much have to drive everywhere we have to go. I suppose I could ride my bike to the market, but I'd need an attachment to get the groceries home. Then again, riding a bike on these sidewalk-less suburban streets isn't the safest mode of transportation either. And with gas prices skyrocketing, we should all be asking "is this trip necessary?" ;)

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  15. I'm glad I'm not alone in my distrust of deteriorating roadway signs. The guillotine idea goes through my head almost every time I'm on the highway. And, it's not as bad here in Denver, but in Chicago, I used to wonder about the bridges as well. They're in downright dismal disrepair.

    One day, when you work for NPR, I hope you'll be so kind as to give us a book interview;)

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    1. Oh Beer, I'd be delighted! You know anyone over there at NPR? Wait, wait! Surely you have some Chicago connections??? ;)

      (I'd live in the city, of course. What kind of condition is the 'L' in these days? Ha.)

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  16. So funny the places our minds wander to while driving. I love this too because I am oh-so-addicted to npr! :)

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    1. Always good music on NPR, Elizabeth. ;)

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  17. Jayne, I can see you squinting into the sunshine, brows furrowed, concerned about the stability of road signs...there has to be a hidden message in here somewhere. The exit; alas music. Escape. Beauty.
    I loved this piece. Once again I was there. You are amazing my dear!
    Leah;)

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  18. Great post which did make me laugh because I often pretend I work on my favourite radio station. Never tv: always radio.

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