5. Driven – Part I

Picture of cars in trafficDriving to work, most days, is a pretty straightforward process. It’s a routine I have down to a science, with as little variation as possible. It’s not that I don’t like a little variety. I do – when it works for me. But creating a routine around my morning commute lets me focus my attention on a wider variety of things than which roads I’ll take, how fast I’ll drive, whether or not I’ll turn at this inter-section or that intersection, and whether I need to stop for gas. Figuring it all out, ahead of time, and staying consistent saves me a whole lot of energy, which is important, because first thing in the morning, the sun can be very bright, glaring on every smooth surface and distracting me, taxing me, demanding a lot of mental effort to block it out. The demands of light-sensitivity also affect my hearing, making every noise sound like something I should pay attention to. The sounds the road under my tires, bumping over rough spots, clunking over manholes, the throaty thrum of the engine, the whoosh of wind streaming past my windows, the hiss and creak of passing traffic, startling beeps of high-pitched horns, and the indeterminate jumble of background noise that comes with the world waking up and jumping into action, all blend together in like waves rising and falling against a rocky beach on a stormy day.

It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least. But it’s like this every morning, so it’s nothing new. It’s familiar in a way I’ve resigned myself to, and for the most part, I hardly notice how much it takes out of me – until I have to deal with groggy morning drivers.

The one thing I have going for me is routine. Routine is my friend. And it’s the friend of everyone else on the road who interacts with me. It’s Thursday, so I happen to have a nearly full tank of gas. I generally fill up on weekends, and then again on Wednesday evenings when I’m heading home from work. It takes the guesswork out of things. That’s especially important, because towards the end of the week, I’m running out of steam. The last thing I need is the added worry of running low on gas. Plus, by the end of the week, I often work later, so I’m not in danger of getting stuck running on fumes after the local service stations have closed.

That’s not a problem, this morning, as I glance at the fuel gauge. Yes, the needle is near the “Full” indicator. The confirmation gives me a welcome sense of relief. At least one thing is going right, today.

I motor down the same route I take each morning, sticking to secondary roads that keep me clear of the main highways. Interstates have way too much traffic, and I prefer not to take on the rush hour crowd. Especially today. It’s slow going this morning, unfortunately. I’ve left my house later than usual, and now my path is clogged by a parade of delivery trucks and grocery store tractor-trailers making their deliberate way along the winding road we share. I should have thought of this, I chastise myself. I know this happens on Thursdays. But when I think back to the morning I’ve had, with all those balance and sensory difficulties, I cut myself a break. Even if I’d wanted to get out of the house at my usual time, it never would have happened. Not today.

The weather is gorgeous outside the controlled environment of my little car. I notice this briefly as I join the line of cars slowly meandering from the interior of my town their various destinations. A clear, blue sky brightened with white whispy clouds casts a swirled canopy over a brilliantly green summer’s landscape. Seedlings have long since matured into thriving plants, lining the roadway with intruding vegetation, filling the cultivated fields with lines of exuberant growth — adolescent cornstalks stretch towards the sun, and young plants are starting to reveal their identities as broccoli or cauliflower or beans. The temperature is pleasant — hardly the 78 degrees the thermometer threatened me with, first thing this morning.

But as I drive, I don’t see anything around me. I observe no scenery, no mostly-sunny weather, and none of the vibrant passing landscape. No matter how beautiful a day it is, no matter how green the fields may be, or how blue the sky, or how cheerful the birds sing as they swoop, twittering, across my path, I’m so intent on focusing my visual attention on the road ahead, that all that is lost on me. It might as well not even exist.

Not the beautiful day around me, not the passing scenery, not the trees in early bud, not the birds flying overhead, not the verdant shoots of green new life peeking from the dark soil.

All I see is the road. All I can spare my attention for, is the road.

Inside the car, it’s muffled. It’s not quiet, since my little hatchback is a late model, and it doesn’t have good acoustics. But it’s quieter than the world I’m passing by, as well as the world inside my head. As loud as the passing traffic and ambient sounds are, the thoughts in my head are even more intrusive.

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