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  • William Maley
    William Maley

    Afterthoughts: A Car In Troubled Times

      Driving To Provide Some Space To What Is Going On In the World

    The news came during dinner last Monday. My mother asked if I would be able to take any time off of work, and I said that I might be able to if the circumstances were considered important. She revealed that my grandfather, her dad passed away that afternoon. It wasn’t from COVID-19, but other complications that had put in him the hospital since early June. After dinner, I needed some time and space to begin processing the news. So I grabbed the keys to my car and went for a drive.

    The past few months have been difficult for all of us in varying degrees with COVID-19. Many places going on lockdown have caused massive disruptions to how we work, travel, and interact with the world. I have been hunkered down at home since mid-March when my employer announced our office would be closed for the time being, and we would be working from home. During the first month or so, I had put a moratorium on driving except for essential places such as the grocery store or pharmacy. Isolating to prevent catching and/or spreading the virus took priority over going for a drive. But after a month of just being in a house with family and doing the same things over and over, I was going stir crazy. 

    I realized that I needed some space to not only prevent myself from losing it, but to give me some room to think about everything floating in my mind. Going for daily walks either by myself or with the dog helped a bit. But I still felt like I needed some more space, more time to myself.

    Back in 2015, I wrote an Afterthoughts column titled The Escape Machine. I talked about how the car for some of us was a way to escape the world for a time. You could go anywhere depending on how much fuel was in the tank and give the space needed to clear or process whatever was on the mind. I ended the piece with these two lines,


    Sometimes, it's necessary to hop into your escape machine and drive wherever it takes you to clear or process things in your mind.

    It just comes down to you to make the decision.

    That decision for me came in late April/early May. I would go for long drives, provided that I would wear a mask if I got out to go for a walk. Going for the first drive in over a month was a bit of revelation. Turing the steering wheel, pressing down on the accelerator and brake; and watching the world go past in blur made me realize how much I missed this. This seems like a trope, but you have a newfound appreciation for something you haven’t done in some time. This also gave me the space to begin piecing together various thoughts such as how do I keep myself from falling into the endless pit of despair, what can I do to keep myself from feeling bored, and do I dive back into automotive writing.

    I didn’t know how important this would become in the coming weeks as COVID-19 cases increased, the economy would come to a screeching halt; and the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing fallout. Whenever my mind would become overwhelmed or I just get too frustrated, I would hop into my vehicle and go somewhere. It didn’t matter where or how long, just as long as I had some space to think or to calm down, it would be enough.

    Back to last Monday night. As I drove, there was a lot I needed to process in terms of grief and wondering what would happen next: Would there be a funeral, what precautions should I take, will it be a long ceremony, and so on. I didn’t come up with any clear answers to these questions, but having that time to start putting things into perspective helped. 

    It was on the way back that another thought popped into my head. At the moment, we’re all trying to find some sense of normal in a world that isn’t. For auto enthusiasts, that is to drive as it gives some sort of control. It may be a small thing, but they provide some much-needed comfort.

    Like many of us, I don’t what the rest of year holds if it continues to be a landfill fire or somehow begins to contain itself. But I do know that I’ll likely be taking more drives, whether that be my car or one that I’m reviewing. Having something that provides a sense of normal is welcomed.

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    So true.

    While I had to go to work all these months and I wasn't cooped at home, my "fun car",  my old Infiniti G37 was stored in the garage since late November.  The stress of my wife and me being exposed by going to work and our kids staying at home without us during the day was a lot.  Just recently I finally had time and opportunity to take my G out and just go for a drive.  I realized how much I missed changing gears, revving a nice powerful engine (not economy 4 cylinder), and just going for a drive without any destination.  Some local roads on a nice evening, it was pretty epic.  I realize I have to do it more often.

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    Condolences on your grandfather. Mine passed in ‘16 just shy of 101, and it must bother me more than I’m conscious of (there’s a bit of family drama over his last few years), because he keeps showing up in my dreams with frequency even now. The aspects of that drama I push away to keep it from raising my blood pressure.

    I think I’ve been pouring myself into my car project this year because... something just flatly says ‘its time to finish this’. Where that voice is coming from, I don’t know.

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    Awesome read @William Maley

    I totally agree with your thinking. I have been home since February when Dell Technology choose to have the company world wide Shelter in place (164,000). The company has since informed us that they expect 50% of the employees to become work from home permanently. Since then, I have now received my date of going to the office to clear out my cubicle. July 8th from 8am to 10 am. I will pack up and take home everything. 

    My gut tells me this is the start of a commercial property downturn as companies that can have employees work from home will and reduce the cost of commercial property rent. Our Seattle office is a 7 story building that we had subleased out the 7th and 1st floor. The lease is up this fall. As such, I suspect we will reduce down to Floors 4 to 6 as our Datacenter is on Floor 4 and we have steps between floor 5 and 6 cut through the cement so no way to isolate the floors. As such, I suspect a much smaller sales center with most being focused on support and engineering onsite that is critical, rest will be at home. There are 1,200 of us in the office. I suspect only a few hundred will return to the office.

    Days of driving into work are over for me, as such, taking the road trip drive will be more important than ever now.

    To be safe it is more than just mask and a set of disposable gloves. We need to insure we have our sanitizer, think about where we stop and have the ability to use the restroom. Plan to have your TravelJohn with you.


    As an auto enthusiast, it is more important to keep us connected to the passion that drives our interests.

    Anyone up for an Auto enthusiast skype/zoom get together?

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    So sorry about your grandfather. 😞 

    I would agree with the above. With all the crazy going on, I think we end up forgetting one of the best stress reliever- the car drive!! ( Not facebook 😉 ) I have had the chance to get out a little- but I think I need some more long drives- in my Nox- my Cavalier- pretty much anything!

    I agree with dfelt- much easier to spend time here then paying too much attention to that outside world crazy stuff- when we can relax and talk about car stuff.

    I’m up for a Skype/Zoom....I think that would be fun....maybe a little crazy- but a good time.... 🙂 

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    Took a nice highway rid today to north-ish Jersey, about 55 mins ea way, to pick up my B-59 bumper core. Little back roads off a east-west state highway.
    Did not get to meet the seller; took the bumper and left the cash under the door mat.

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    Sorry for your Grandfather.  

    I too lost dear family members this past year.   Not to Covid though.   My 99 year old auntie past away last September 3 weeks shy of her turning 100.  And my mother-in-law past away exactly 1 month ago.   She was young.  69 years old.  Organ failure due to new arthritis medication.    

    Yes with me also. Driving alone late in the wee hours of the night/morning when I was single always relaxed me.   I dont do that anymore, so I dont get that escape anymore, but I do use my diecast model car collection to leave this world and go to another place to reset.   That and music.  Youtube is a life savour for me.  

    I dont relax when I drive anymore as there are far too many cars on the road, too many selfish drivers around  to actually enjoy  the ride.  And late night romps dont exist as Id rather be safe at home with my family at or beyond the witching hour.  I do miss driving late at night with nobody on the streets, but Im not a 20 something year old single guy without any family responsibilities...    I got a wife and kids to come home to and to be there for. 

    Speaking of which, she is my other source of escape.  We are always in each other's face, but that is a good thing as we are always talking to each other, planning our future together, making small adjustments to our hopes and dreams regarding our family, growing old together.  


    Edited by oldshurst442
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    Took a couple quick trips out and about today, incl. to the dealer this morning for oil change, filter, tire rotation, etc.   Was out on the freeway in my Jeep for the first time in 4 months...beautiful sunny day, sunroof open, blasting U2 from their new Sirius XM channel...for 20 min the world felt 'normal' again...maybe take a drive up to the lake this weekend.

    Edited by Robert Hall
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