Dispatches: Driving in America

The past week was filled with loads of time driving across states, evacuating from William & Mary because of Hurricane Florence. I hitchhiked from Williamsburg to Fairfax and on to Washington D.C before heading to Maryland, and finally getting a ride back due to the kindness of a stranger (now acquaintance) from Germantown to Williamsburg. This meant spending a good half of the time getting lost in my own thoughts, which brought life to this little dispatch.

Driving was always a matter of getting from point-to-point for me, the means to an end. A journey, then, would mean nothing more than a process from getting place to place.

Since arriving in the States, I’ve never given much thought to the idea of driving (although I was pretty certain that I wanted to drive someday, and hopefully learn it here). Something about driving seems different here – at least as compared to how I’ve conceived it in contrast to what driving is in Asia: full of jams, a tireless process and in Singapore, an unnecessarily expensive one. Driving seems almost different here; it is a way of life, something more than a means to an end, an enjoyable part of the journey.

This made me rethink many things that I’ve come to take for the norm in Asia. We have highly walkable and concentrated urban centers; this is contrasted by a few urban centers in the US (from the likes of Chicago and D.C) and little suburban towns like Chevy Chase, and Germantown. We have easily walkable fast food stores and convenient stores, but this is most prevalent in city centers, otherwise a short drive away for most.

There seems to be a differing idea of ‘distance’ and ‘convenience’ here – distance is cross-country; convenience is perhaps a matter of a short 20-30 minutes drive away – something a lot of us in the city take for granted when we’ve amenities located around the corner.

The idea of ‘journeying’ here takes on a different paradigm – the car rides and driving are ‘part of the journey’; something that can be enjoyable (whether rocking out to music while cruising down the highway, enjoying the conversations or snacks on road trips) and not the chore I’ve usually seen it to be.

There is something about the ethos of the people here that seem to espouse this spirit of ‘journeying’ – which makes it seems that they’re fearless almost. Moving across states are like moving across countries for us, but they take it with a spirit of adventure; nothing like what we take it to be.

Driving across different states morph into different landscapes, but the people remain the same: friendly, sometimes curious; unamazed at the sheer distance between cities and towns and sometimes countries. Traveling to different states feel different, but yet feel somewhat similar.

Journeying is something I’ve always seen as a ‘process’, nothing more than a passage to a destination. But it can be important too.