The second day of driving was again tough as another splendid day of sun and good weather abounded. Luckily today would be considerably less driving, as I was not making the journey to the prison. I started off again on my way to work, the 9 minute, 4 mile journey along Division Street. An unusual sight this morning was the blueberry and cherry lights of a cop accompanied by a tow truck near the left bend as Division turns into 28th street. This may have been the first time I have seen a cop along this street, as there is really no shoulder to speak of and I imagine the cops have higher priorities than to monitor this 2 lane road for speeders, even though it is the main roadway from Evergreen to downtown Olympia. I again arrived a few minutes late to work, though this time it was in the acceptable range and nothing from my superiors was said.

I returned home from a day of work followed by a good couple of hours of ultimate frisbee at 8:17pm. It was a pleasant evening with a mellow and cool temperature that begged me to come and join it for a walk. I felt stressed and agitated and I didn’t want to be in my car anymore. I felt weighed down, and even though I had gotten places faster, I had an overriding feeling of stress and being rushed. I wanted to walk, I wanted to ride my bike, and most importantly I wanted this week of driving to be over. My friends were planning to eat and drink at a Mexican restaurant about a mile away from my house, a journey they were of course going to make by foot and were surprised to find out that I was going to stick to my driving despite the temperature and my obvious frustrations with being stuck to my automobile. I could have easily decided to walk with them and write about the reasons why I chose not to drive, but I know many people who would have chosen to drive and the reason for these experiments is to walk (or drive in this instance) in their shoes. So, as they headed off into the night, garage door consuming them as it made its familiar tracked journey to its eventual meeting place of aluminum and concrete, I took a quick shower and waited around the house for a few minutes before once again slumping into the front seat of the van. I drove to Borders books (I apologize to all of the much cooler and local bookstores in Olympia, but was told by Nathaniel Borders would be the place I could obtain a copy of Good magazine, so blame him if I could have gotten it at a local shop), waited in the mostly empty parking lot to finish listening to an interesting radio program about a local currency called Ithaca Hours and then took the plunge into the stale corporate world of Borders books. After getting what I needed, I started the car and drove the two blocks to the restaurant, parked, and arrived just as my friends were at the front door.

After eating too many of the provided free chips and salsa, the majority of the party piled into the van and I gladly handed the keys over to my roommate. I was glad to have 4 other people beside myself accompanying me on the drive, as this was the first time I had carpooled with anyone else during the first two days.

What do the first 2 days of my drive-only experience tell me about the automobile and the lifestyle and consciousness it provides? Lets start with the commute to work. I can understand for some people that commuting the 4 miles to and from work would warrant a car trip instead of another method of transportation. The decision to drive depends on many factors, most notably if there are other ways to get to and from work in a timely matter and how accessible they are to the working population. In my situation, the bus stop is a block from my house and it gets me to and from work on time, so I would never use my car unless I had missed the bus or perhaps needed to bring something large and bulky to campus that wouldn’t fit onto the crowded bus.

How has driving made me feel? As I mentioned above, even after the first day I began to feel stressed and a sense of heaviness as I went to and from work. This may have been because I knew the bus or biking was available to me, so not taking advantage of that was causing increased stress, but I have noticed these feelings before when I make use of the van. I really just dislike driving.

What are some larger patterns that I can observe about driving? Driving contributes to, and perhaps is one of the leaders in the isolationist behaviors and mindsets that I see increasing around me all the time. What follows is a variety of social observations that attempt to build a case for the increase of individualistic behaviors. By individualistic behaviors, I refer to the ways of thinking and acting that are self- centered and invoke a sense of heightened self-importance over others. It is the all important individual, and it can be observed in a city near you! First, lets start with TV, more specifically, the commercials it provides. Commercials are a good place to start when trying to pick up on some of the subtleties of our society, as they tend to show the ideals and visions we have about ourselves.

In countless car commercials, we see images of an individual escaping on the open road. The isolated individual, more often a man but increasingly a woman as well, either of which will be good looking, not allowing obstacles or barriers to get in their way. They are free; free from constraints, as the roads they drive have no one else on them. They seemingly have nowhere else to be but on the road, driving around at high speeds. No cops to worry about, not a care in the world except to drive.

Staying with the TV and its magnificent ads, other examples outside of the car place the individual at the center. The primary example is the cell phone. Cell phone ads place the individual at the center of it all, in control of who they call and who calls them. Most notably are the Verizon ads with that guy in 1950’s glasses followed by a mass of workers making sure that everywhere you go, you’re covered. It should be noted that the Verizon guy has to wake up every morning and look himself in the mirror knowing full well that he will always be known as the Verizon guy. I believe that is punishment enough and will delve no further in what could be countless jokes at his expense. The proliferation of the cell phone has replaced the family landline, removing the mystery of who the ringing telephone is for. The telephone is not a family experience any longer, but an individual one. Another example is the iPod, which allows the user to ignore the outside world around them and focus on their music.

Social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace allow the individual to create a profile that includes only what they want the public to see, which seems mostly to be pictures of themselves getting wasted. (To not sound so high and mighty, I have a profile on both of these sites, accompanied by plenty of pictures of me doing my share of no-no behaviors).

In pop culture, a few of my favorite films, The Matrix and The Dark Knight, portray the protagonist as a lone individual attempting to save the world. No stories here of people coming together to solve their problems collectively, instead a hero is needed that stands above the group.

The most important thing that is lost when the individual is honored instead of the group is a sense of community and political power. Those in power directly benefit from the majority not being organized and united. The more things that can isolate us from each other, the better of the rulers of society are.

Interwoven in the American dream is the idea of the rugged individual, someone who works hard and is rewarded at the end of the day. Today, this ideal has been perverted into a sense that helping others or receiving help is some kind of weakness. Of course people want to be self-sufficient, but certain things just make sense do accomplish as a collective. Mass transit, a communal experience, is barely off the ground in the States compared to other Western nations. Perhaps this sense of the hyper individual is the reason there is almost one car for every person in the United States.

In Jane Holtz Kay’s book Asphalt Nation, she uses a quote about why the Amish don’t use cars, one that fits quite nicely into this discussion on individualism. “The Amish believe that cars pull people apart, and that a car distorts its owner’s sense of self-importance in a world where humility is a necessary virtue.”

I extend my apologies for this post as it quite rambling, but I hope the overall point shines through. The car is a great tool for creating a consumer base of individuals, which negatively impacts communities and communal activities, such as mass transit. The examples I have provided all stem from this way of thinking, and I believe we must leave this way of thinking behind if we are to truly take a step forward in ending the age of the auto. Mass transit requires us to humble ourselves, to rub shoulders with both our neighbors and strangers. It opens the world up to those who don’t have a car, who can’t afford one or for one reason or another can’t drive. The individualistic nightmare that is driving down your streets, cell phone in one ear and a middle finger to the rest of the world must end. A community is made up of individuals with common bonds, and we must restore those bonds if we are to create a society where sustainable transportation can be realized.