Every once in awhile, during a typical workday, I’ll come up from my basement desk and look out at my car sitting in the driveway.
Recently it was covered with a fine mist of yellow pollen, which is easy to spot from that vantage point; harder when you’re up close. Then it was small leaves blown around by early summer winds and rain until they took up residence on the windshield wipers, on the door frames and in the crevices of the side mirrors. Every other car in the neighbourhood is dealing with the same affliction. This stuff would, of course, blow off if we drove a bit.
When the pandemic first hit and we started staying home, traffic slowed to a trickle. Our street connects two east-west routes in Toronto and while it’s hardly a major thoroughfare, it’s typically busy. It was eerie to see it so silent in those first few days and weeks of lockdown.
It’s fitting though that the most recent drive I took was to bring my daughter to her first Covid-19 vaccination. A 33-minute drive away, just over 27 kilometres. Traffic was substantial on the highway but given that it was mid-day and many of us are still working from home, where are you all going?
The answer could be nowhere. Throughout the winter and last fall, and last summer for that matter, a drive became a thing to do. Let’s just drive downtown and see what’s going on, we’d say. Knowing that there’s probably not much of anything happening. The streetcar would be crawling along its tracks and people would be walking, sure, but the typical weekday and weekend crowds were non-existent.
Look, there’s my office (now closed as we await a signal that all is clear to return to work, but in a new location). Is Brandy Melville open? my daughter would ask. Yes, but with strict capacity limits and an inevitable lineup outside.
When were kids, our parents would once in a while take us for a drive. Usually on a Sunday evening and only in the summer. Sometimes we’d convince our father to take us to our favourite park in Paris, Ont. For my sister and me at the time it probably seemed exotic (it had a twisty slide. We had to make do with the regular straight slides in the parks in our neighbourhood.) But I remember the thing we seemed to do more often was drive along country roads. My father, as we would come to know, thought of himself as a farmer stuck in a stock broker’s suit and the country drives were an attempt to get back to his rural roots (and routes).
Between that long ago then and this suspended now, a drive was replaced by a commute. Which was punctuated by trips to see friends or family a few hours away. Those were in turn replaced by road trips–to New York, to Myrtle Beach, to Orlando, to Athens, Georgia. Trips that were defined by being behind the wheel, moving across the pavement putting kilometres behind us as we looked ahead to the many more to come. Stopping as strangers in some locale and greeting others who were doing the same thing.
But the aimless drive? That just didn’t happen. Until at least we were cooped up in homes/offices rarely going farther than the grocery store (which became at first an expedition in itself: Gloves? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Mentally prepared to stand in line? Check.) But we needed to get out. Somehow. Anyhow. The idea of a drive became both entertainment and escape. Forgotten were the hassles of traffic, aggressive drivers, construction-induced gridlock.
Now, as I come up from my basement office and look at the car in my driveway, I remind myself that automobiles are made to move. Humans are too. And once in a while we both need to exit the driveway and let the wind take the dust away.