Like a lot of people, Iâve been driving less on average since the pandemic began. This presents a problem when part of your job requires testing cars.
I like to get a minimum of 60 miles on a vehicle Iâm testing. Before March of last year, that was easy to do even though I work from home and live in a dense, urban part of Chicago in which most retail establishments Iâd drive to are a short distance from home. Thatâs because Iâd have to trek to OâHare for a press junket, or to the suburbs for an event being held by an automaker, or to those same suburbs to socialize with family and friends.
That, obviously, got taken away for me as it did for everyone. So in order to properly test cars for review (housekeeping note â a bunch are coming now that Iâve finished some behind-the-scenes projects that were major time sucks) â Iâve had to do something I did before the pandemic on occasion and just carve time for a drive.
I usually get up on a weekend morning at a time that was once unthinkable to a younger me, cook up a nice breakfast, and head out on one of two drive loops I know (sometimes I explore a third area) that combines urban streets, freeway, and curving roads (Chicago isnât Southern California, but there a few decent roads in the metro if you where to look). I do it even with vehicles that arenât particularly fun to drive or really meant to be pushed, just so I have a better sample of a vehicleâs behavior than I would if all I did was run to the market.
To be clear, Iâm not doing some buff-book âat the limitâ shit. I keep my behavior in check as best I can (I already received one speeding ticket this year), and I intend to return each car to the press fleet in one piece. I just want to push things enough to better understand any given carâs dynamics.
The hour or two a week I spend on this has been a lifesaver, in terms of mental health.
Thatâs because itâs one of the few things I can do outside the home that is very low risk in terms of catching COVID. And itâs one of the few things I can do that reminds me of Before Times normality, even if thereâs hand sanitizer in the cupholder and a mask on the passenger seat.
Not to mention that driving is fun. Commuting sucks, but actual driving is fun. Even if I am just doing a relaxed cruise, I usually enjoy the process of moving a two-ton hunk of metal from point A to point B.
Yes, driving can be fun. But I touched on how going for a spin reminds me of normal life from the Before, and that is, I think, the biggest thing for me right now.
So little of life is what we thought of as ânormalâ now. I rarely see friends and family in person. If I go to happy hour, itâs not at a bar â itâs on Zoom and I donât leave my house. I wear a mask in public for my safety and the safety of others, and I worry that any trip to the store could get me sick. I miss restaurant meals.
But I can drive. I donât have to wear a mask alone in the car â though I keep it with me in case I need to run into a store. Yeah, the bottle of hand sanitizer also reminds me that the world is weird right now, but otherwise, I can pretend, just for a time, that weâre not in a global pandemic.
The rest of the time, I am reminded the world is in the midst of a global health crisis. Every hangout thatâs on Zoom instead of in person, every live sporting event I watch that has no fans, every time I see masked people on the street (or whenever I put mine on), every time I see that a favorite bar or restaurant is âtemporarily closed.â Every time I check the news, even. Every waking hour I am reminded that weâre in a pandemic.
Except when Iâm cruising the Edens Expressway, music blasting, on a trip to nowhere special. Except when Iâm hitting an on-ramp just hard enough to get some tire squeal. Except when Iâm working through some corners on a twisty road.
Eventually, the car is parked and itâs back to reality. But for a couple of hours each week, I take a trip back in time 10 months to when the world, flawed as it is, wasnât in the grips of a deadly virus. If I couldnât do that, well, letâs just say I never thought Iâd understand Jack Torrance in The Shining so well.
Go for a drive.