The Rugged Individualist
So get yourself a car and drive it all night long
Get yourself a car and ride it on the wind
-Chris Cornell, Audioslave – “Getaway Car”
Some people prefer to travel with passengers. After all, most automobiles are built with two or more seats and for a great many people the desire to share the automotive experience with others is important.
I’m not one of those people.
For me, the car remains a refuge, an escape hatch, an Irish exit. I have long since preferred to get in a car by myself and drive into the mountains, the desert, or up the coast to be alone with my thoughts. My best musings have often occurred on these rambling journeys of introspection. I have found sudden inspiration in the long miles falling away beneath my tires. Sometimes it’s the discovery of a new vista, a new set of curves, a friendly coffee shop that makes the journey complete. Using my car as an escape vehicle factors strongly into my own personal narrative and I will always choose the solo journey over driving with a friend.
There is historical precedent at play. The American West I grew up in has a long-standing love affair with the rugged individualist. The lone cowboy on the range, the solo driver blazing across vast desert vistas. It’s an iconographical part of the American, if not world’s, psyche. The cigarette company Marlboro successfully used this image with its lonely cowboy motif for decades. It’s also harder and harder to achieve a sense of the individual in the increasingly urbanized world we inhabit. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that so many of the current of crop of automotive television commercials traffic on this theme. They focus on the car or truck as an extension of a unique personality, not as a communal experience. Think Chevrolet’s recent, “A man. A man and his truck…” commercial as an example.
To provide a counterpoint, and establish that I am not a complete loner, I do have great memories of road trips with people. I’ve taken amazing journeys with friends and family that were unique and powerful. For example, after 9/11 my family was stuck in South Carolina. With air traffic halted, we rented a car and all four of us struck out across the country. We listened to David McCullough’s brilliant book John Adams and traveled together across a shell-shocked nation back to Idaho. It remains a trip that I will always recall with a mixture of sadness and amazement, made more substantive for having experienced it with family. I’ve also driven on epic mid-winter ski trips through raging blizzards with good buddies that still remain highlights of an adventurous youth. I have wonderful memories of trips with girlfriends, and later my wife. But the older I get, the more pressing my responsibilities, the more complex my scheduling – the more I long for the pure experience of driving alone.
As a vintage car enthusiast I’m given the opportunity to disconnect in a way that drivers of modern cars cannot. Simply turning off your phone, or leaving it behind, means the absence of distractions; texts, emails and phone calls disappear and the open road, beckons. A trip alone represents freedom. When I settle into the leather seat on an early weekend morning and idle out of the garage, I have a sense of mounting excitement. I can drive where I want, when I want and whatever speed I want. I am no longer beholden to a passenger, I am not required to pick a destination…I am the captain of my tiny metal ship.
So, if you see me, fellow traveller, barreling down a dusty, lonely road going nowhere fast, please make sure you tip your hat.
I’ll probably be alone.
Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious and Jonathan WC Mills