Many people eagerly await the self-driving car. I am not one of them. “But you can check emails, watch TV, be alone with your thoughts,” they say, as if I don’t go out driving for the sole purpose of not checking emails or being alone with my thoughts. Though that’s not totally true. I do enjoy the particular kind of thinking that happens while driving, but it happens because the part of my brain that would normally be rehashing the many ways I have humiliated myself over the years is busy scanning for obstacles and controlling limbs, which allows the tiny remainder not dedicated to self-loathing to—hopefully—come up with some good ideas.
Different cars prompt different kinds of thinking. Supercars, and really all performance cars, take almost all your processing power to keep them from pitching off a cliff or, more commonly, scraping across a speed bump. A supercar should be driven fast and without mercy on familiar terrain. It’s a waste of good scenery to drive one somewhere new. They are excellent for forgetting all your problems, which is probably why people having midlife crises are so drawn to them. It’s not that they make you feel young, but that you’re too busy going fast and judging driveway angles to think about how you’re old. Supercars are visceral, not philosophical.
Yesterday I saw a Jeep Wrangler with a sticker on the window that said, “Yours may go fast, but mine can go anywhere.” Trucks and four-by-fours are good thinkin’ vehicles, with their big windows for scenery gazing and plenty of clearance so your brain isn’t kept busy scanning for potholes and pebbles. They’re big, though, and huge vehicles require a little caution when it comes to parking and maneuvering. If you’re wondering how low the parking garage roof is, your mind isn’t truly free.
Luxury cars, with their complex infotainment systems and massaging seats, distract in a different way. The sound systems are so good, and there are so many podcasts to listen to. It’s like LeVar Burton is in the car with me, reading N.K. Jemisin’s latest short story. Why would I want to explore my own thoughts when I can have a conversation with the vehicle’s voice control about what color the interior accent lights should be? No, any great genius will tell you too much comfort is bad for the art.
So what’s the best car for creativity? A boring one. A car that offers no stimulus, good or bad, but still requires enough input to drive that you drop the small thoughts, leaving you open to inspiration from outside the windows and inside your heart. All boring cars are the same, so just picture the boring car of your choice. Not a bad car, mind you. Not one with rattles and no power and a CVT that howls like a vacuum cleaner being lifted up stairs and off-gassing plastic that smells like a skunk ate a bunch of eggs and then passed out in paint thinner. Awful cars are not boring. They don’t achieve what boring cars do, which is to fade so completely from your consciousness that you don’t even remember you’re driving a car—something that is hard to do if you hate the car every second you’re in it. So a boring car must offer a certain level of quality and performance but not too much because then you’re in a good car, and you’ll start thinking about driving again, only this time happily and with thoughts of doing more of it.
A boring car is most likely a newish car because cars past a certain age become interesting whether they started that way or not. Even the slowest machine can be a nail-biting thrill when it stinks of leaking fuel and seems to have working brakes only on one side but the side keeps changing.
It is only in a truly mind-numbing car that you are fully free to explore the side streets of your town and your mind without distraction. You can use that time to come up with a screenplay, solve the homelessness problem, consider opening a dog rescue, or just think about how much more fun life would be in an interesting car. Point is, you wouldn’t be doing any of it if you were being driven around autonomously while checking your email.
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