Speed’s Demons

It’s the anxiety. Mine. Where does it come from? Is fear a concomitant of age? If so, perhaps it’s there for a biological reason. You know, watch the ice on the steps. Try not to topple over in the bathtub. That sort of thing. I don’t know, but it’s there, and it’s part of my daily landscape. That is to say, there is much less running on automatic. Hop in the car and go…well, anywhere? Not now.

I have had my Chrysler van for a full year, and I’m still not easy with the thing. In fact, I’m not easy with lots of things, but the car is a particular focus. I drive so little, that all sorts of complications arise. Not the least of which involves batteries. Turns out that if you let them sit around, the power drains from them like sand through an hourglass. Don’t do it. Turn that key periodically, keep the sucker cranking, that’s the thing. And on this particular morning the thing is a drive to San Francisco, more particularly, my new neighborhood. Note that this is a trodden path. I have driven there a time or two before. Still, I haven’t driven there in the last week. And that’s what counts. Recency. Not driving can, in fact, affect the body. The muscles I used to pull my foot up, that is to say on and off the accelerator and brake, don’t get used. And the results are there. As I say, I have to keep doing this. What stands in the way? Principally fear.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that I can drive. Even that I can drive some distance. Only last week, on the way to Monterey, Jane and I hit the road at the worst possible moment. Rush hour was brewing, and a major collision had snarled the motorway south. The whole thing took three hours, my longest drive ever. My back was sore, my foot was stinging, but what the hell. There I was by the sea, wife at my side, and all was well. All is likely to be well today, this very morning, although this will be a solo exercise. I think of all the things that could go wrong. Losing control on the freeway being the worst. And maybe a bit of paranoia isn’t such a bad thing in this regard. But only a bit. As Jane can attest, I tend to get nervous on freeway hills. There are several between here in San Francisco, and in anxious moments, I still brake heavily on the downhill stretches. For absolutely no reason. There’s nothing wrong with downhill. It saves fuel.

Which is easy enough to say, but in practice, the two inclines that slant down along the San Andreas Fault rift valley…well, they consistently throw me into an anxious tizzy. It’s here, and essentially only here, that I often feel my driving is out of control, that somehow I cannot brake. My one foot is not sufficient. So I move my foot over the brake pedal, and I can’t resist pressing down. Slowing the car to a ludicrous 50 mph, while everyone zips by me at over 70. Soon I will be over 70 myself, and that will really make me look ludicrous. The archetypal little old man trying to drive. Sad, even in anticipation.

Of course, the way home is an entirely different experience. In fact, it occurs to me that I might just try holding my foot over the brake pedal and not depressing the latter. Or even keeping my foot gently on the accelerator. Just a thought. And thoughts are good. Here feelings are not so good. Mostly. Still I have lots of the latter, and since thinking generally does not predominate in such moments of reactive fear, paying attention is another good thing. My life is unusually precarious. It hangs by a thread, as it were, a thread of spinal cord nerve cells. I am using half a body to drive a car, and that is inherently precarious. It feels like a tightrope walk. Perhaps it is. Perhaps I’ve been walking a tightrope for a long time, and that’s my job, and I’m competent. Confident? Stay tuned.

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