Vehicular Therapy

I grew up at the end of the era of the “Sunday drive.” Nearly every Sunday, my Dad would take Mom, my sister and me on a ride somewhere after lunch. Some of these drives would be to check out a structure his company was working on, some would be out in the country to a nearby town or historic site. One educational Sunday drive I remember took us all the way to Baton Rouge, 90 miles from our home in New Orleans, to visit the State Capitol building.

I’m not sure my Dad thought of these excursions as therapeutic but I do know they were a break from his same-ole-same-old routine. That era (the 1960s and 70s) was the beginning of a transition from simpler times to the hectic, stressful, over-scheduled lives we lead now. Funny how what passed for stress then might be called a vacation now. But there were times when his work was stressful and these drives would calm him down.

Nearly every American kid who grew up in that era is attached to cars. Another transition of the time was from mass transit to individualistic movement. My family had three drivers but only one car; we took the bus a lot. Now a family with three drivers would have three or even four cars.

The “Sunday drive” tradition instilled in me a love of driving for relaxation. My friends and I would roll down some back road, just to see where it went; just to cover distance and do something that wasn’t school or work. College was very stressful for me and I also remember cruising alone on Lakeshore Drive many times. As the name implies this four-lane curvy street hugs the shore of a lake, in this case Lake Pontchartrain, the 10th largest lake in the U.S. You can’t see the other side, so this body of water is more like a calm ocean. Most of the access is seawall rather than beach but it is still possible to stop and put your feet in the water while contemplating the vista view. It is very relaxing; very therapeutic.

For fourteen of the past twenty years I have grown to associate driving with traffic, road rage, potholes, gas-brake-gas-brake and a generally high degree of stress. Six years ago a stressful situation (helping my sister escape from Hurricane Katrina) re-introduced me to the potential relaxation of driving. I have taken several road trips since then and now look forward to those long stretches of driving. They are often therapeutic for me. Sometimes I take the Interstate highways, sometimes I take the manicured back roads like Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Outside of crowded cities, all have therapeutic qualities.

I was thinking about this yesterday because a friend of mine who grew up in a slightly later era also seeks vehicular therapy. She texted me about a clear-the-head drive she took along a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway near her home in North Carolina.

As I re-read what I wrote so far it occurred to me that my weekend will be filled with stressful, personal activities and maybe, just maybe, I should plan to take a short “therapeutic” drive somewhere. The predicted cool, crisp air might do me some good.