Jean-Paul Sartre had it wrong. Hell isn't other people. It's other people in their cars.
No other activity, at least none it's legal to do in public, digs as deep into the human psyche, pressing emotional buttons better left untouched. To drive today is to be stuck in rolling damnation - a hands-free Sisyphus on four wheels.
The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada show that we log an average of 63 minutes a day commuting between home and work. That's 63 minutes of boredom punctuated with violent rage. Sixty-three minutes nudging slowly forward in rush-hour traffic as you watch a squirrel by the side of the "freeway" make better time.
Hence Road Sage.
What the roads need now is levity. Comedy is pain, time and contradiction. What better description of the modern motorist could there be? Each week I'll apply pen to pavement. There will be every kind of joke.
Q: How many used car salesmen does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I don't know. Let me run some numbers through the machine. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
You were turning left.
Using cellphone. Just missed me,
give you the finger.
Don't mistake freewheeling verse for editorial sway. My editor has already killed the following story ideas:
1) What's it like to own a Porsche?
2) Top down. Bottoms off. Sex in 2010 model convertibles.
3) Paris: Can you drive there?
4) Miami: Car heaven or car hell?
Nevertheless, I press on. Let my muse drive a Bentley.
Motoring is supposed to be fun. Weren't automobiles created to make life easier? Since the moment Henry Ford rolled the first Model T off the assembly line, cars have epitomized the American Dream and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Canadian cat-nap. Rich folks had drivers. The newly-minted middle class drove. Those who didn't drive had chrome-covered fantasies.
The day your dad bought a new car he proudly displayed it in the driveway and all the neighbours came round to marvel and praise his purchase. The automobile let you see parts of the country never before accessible and it allowed young folks, lucky enough to borrow the family sedan, to find a private space in which (if they were limber enough) they could practice the rites of Aphrodite far from disapproving parental eyes.
The Beach Boys sang primarily about two things: cars and girls (and the merits of having both).
Cars were freedom, they were progress and progress was good.
And now? If the fair citizens of Boston were affixing a scarlet letter "A" on Hester Prynne today it wouldn't stand for adultery, it would stand for automobile. The roads we drive on, the fuel we use, the exhaust we emit, all of these things are the building blocks for the destruction of planet Earth, as we are reminded daily.
Cars are evil. Drivers are the agents of the devil.
I saw a friend the other weekend: a car nut, a guy whose idea of a great Sunday is F1 in the morning, NASCAR in the afternoon and then a late-night drive through the city's empty streets. Probably the only person I've ever met whom I could imagine literally getting hard at the sight of a new sports car.
"I've had it," he said. "I'm taking public transit to work. The driving, it's just too horrible. It's just (here he used a six-letter word beginning with "F" and ending with "ucked"). Another one rides the bus. 1
Yet those who would stop environmental catastrophe by shifting every car, truck and motorcycle into permanent park ignore the fact that without motorized transport modern life comes to a halt.
Everything connected to civilization is at one time driven from Point A to Point B. Hey, 100-mile-diet, you know that Nasonex you took for your sinusitis? It didn't arrive at the pharmacy on horse-back. That's an inconvenient truth.
So here we are in the 21st century. Driving is the key to our survival and the cause of our destruction. Damned when we do and damned if we don't.
That is why I'm sure there will be no shortage of material for Road Sage. There is not a single aspect of modern life untouched by the automobile. You can live in a car. You can die in a car. You can make love in a car. You can give birth in a car. You can break the law. You can race to the rescue. You can eat your lunch. You can lose your lunch. You can swear your head off. You can cry your eyes out. And brother, you sure as hell can laugh.
1 Thanks Weird Al.