Somewhere along the road to adulthood, at some early curve shortly after leaving home in our mother’s womb, we come to understand two separate categories of life: the public part and the private. Publicly, we consider the life we live in front of other people, out in the world, aware of others’ perception of us—our actions, our appearances, our opinions. And while there’s no reason to put on a show, and you also learn along that adulthood highway to be yourself no matter what, it still stands to reason that there are certain things one does publicly and certain things one reserves for private life.
Now, take another ride with me. Come on, let’s hop in the car. It feels like it’s just you and me, doesn’t it? In this enclosed metal box, zipping along the canyon roads, leaning into the turns while we laugh about what’s playing on the radio….
…oh! You noticed that other car, did you? Did you notice the other person in it? Well, of course you did. See, the car, my friends, is not a private space; it’s a public one. Sure, I get it’s a closed-up property that belongs to you. You have the keys to it, you make it go. But it is not a room. No, it moves you out into more and more public spaces, with its clear glass windows leaving you fully on display.
Perhaps this is as clear to you as the front windshield of the Subaru behind you, but the longer I write this column, the more I find it is the obvious that needs addressing most. It is the glaring reminders that require repeating—and this is true most often in a small town.
First things first, it’s important to remember that you’re driving in public because as humans living in a place where other humans also reside, we sort of silently, automatically, ascribe to a code of conduct. It’s an understood agreement that binds us to a shared decorum, and this contributes immensely to your quality of life here. Yes, this means that you are also benefitting the good people of this good town with a good life when you follow the rules. I know we’re not into symbiotic relationships these days, but society was kind of established on the premise that they would just happen because humans are inherently good. That’s a notion I’d like to hang onto.
So, you’re contributing to the greater good by buying into the basic rules of communal living, and as previously mentioned, this is most necessary in small towns. For example, I saw a mom from school driving no less than 70 mph on Stagecoach the other day. Don’t get me wrong—I’m guilty of the same! There’s a lot of ground to cover between school and soccer practice or whatnot, and there’s not a lot of time to do it. As I giggled at my racer friend flying by me in her SUV, I wondered how many times someone I know has watched me pretend I’m on a speedway, when all I’m really trying to do is get the good spot at my yoga studio.
In the same vein, it was super embarrassing for one of the bus drivers at my school last year, frustrated at my decision to observe the speed limit for once and enjoy the sunshiny day—so much so that he rode my ass for miles and miles. When I finally let him pass me, he flipped me off, never thinking I could see him through his window, that I might recognize his face, his car, and ultimately follow him into the school parking lot. I’m sure he drives the school bus differently than he drives his personal vehicle.
There are always ways people shouldn’t behave in public, and still inevitably will. Something about the power surge of gripping a steering wheel just brings out our rage and entitled selves. And because this is the case, it’s almost as if these otherwise rude behaviors have become publicly acceptable, at least insofar as the car is public space.
Might I take this argument a little further? For mine eyes have seen things which they should never see, not even as society makes landslides into less and less advanced social norms. I’m not talking about rude gestures and a disregard for safety rules. I’m talking about the things you do when you think no one is looking.
Some of it is funny: the way you know every word to that Nikki Minaj rap. What? You thought I didn’t see the show you were putting on for your rearview mirror?
Some of it is disgusting: Sir, my kid’s finger didn’t go that far up her nose when she was a toddler. Did you get it? And where did you put it when you did?
Some of it is just wrong no matter how you swing it: Ma’am, it is not okay to catch up on your Netflix binge while driving down the parkway.
So, my observation stands, and sometimes the most apparent considerations actually require being brought to the forefront of our minds again and again. Your car is a public space. Please remember that you drive publicly.