The Oddly Simple Joy of the Pandemic Drive

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
the oddly simple joy of the pandemic drive

Like a lot of people, I’ve 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 I’m 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 I’d drive to are a short distance from home. That’s because I’d have to trek to O’Hare 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 – a bunch are coming now that I’ve finished some behind-the-scenes projects that were major time sucks) – I’ve 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 isn’t Southern California, but there a few decent roads in the metro if you know where to look). I do it even with vehicles that aren’t particularly fun to drive or really meant to be pushed, just so I have a better sample of a vehicle’s behavior than I would if all I did was run to the market.

To be clear, I’m not doing some buff-book “at the limit” shit. I keep my behavior in check as best I can (I’ve 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 car’s dynamics.

The hour or two a week I spend on this has been a lifesaver, in terms of mental health.

That’s because it’s one of the few things I can do outside the home that is very low risk in terms of catching COVID. And it’s one of the few things I can do that reminds me of Before Times normality, even if there’s 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 “normal” now. I rarely see friends and family in person. If I go to happy hour, it’s not at a bar – it’s on Zoom and I don’t 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 don’t have to wear a mask alone in the car – 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 we’re 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 that’s 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 “temporarily closed.” Every time I check the news, even. Every waking hour I am reminded that we’re in a pandemic.

Except when I’m cruising the Edens Expressway, music blasting, on a trip to nowhere special. Except when I’m hitting an on-ramp just hard enough to get some tire squeal. Except when I’m working through some corners on a twisty road.

Eventually, the car is parked and it’s 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, wasn’t in the grips of a deadly virus. If I couldn’t do that, well, let’s just say I never thought I’d understand Jack Torrance in The Shining so well.

Go for a drive.

[Image: GM]

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2 of 10 comments
  • Shappy Shappy on Jan 08, 2021

    For years now, every time I come back from a drive in my car, my wife always notes that I am in a much better mood with a smile on my face and a bit more spring in my step. This is even more-so now during the pandemic. Top down, feeling the environment, rowing through the gears, hearing the exhaust note, feeling the g-forces; going for a drive is like a mini-vacation for me each time.

  • Southerner Southerner on Jan 08, 2021

    You miss restaurant meals? Well come on down, my friend. Florida is open for business! No shortage of dining options here. So grab the Missus, the young'uns, Beethoven and Buffy and have yourselves a good ole time on a real road trip.

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
  • RHD Inexpensive gasoline appears to be a thing of the past. ILO is correct - we have enough sunlight, wind and emerging ocean wave energy to power the entire country and then some. Clean air is nice, and being free of the whims of OPEC, geopolitics and hugely profitable oil companies will do all of us a world of good.
  • Raymond Segura Can you tell me where I can get the rear bumper for 69 impala?
  • Art Vandelay some of the crazy numbers I get. Percentages look bigger with any fluctuations with low volume makes and brands leaving the market will see massive month over month changes. But what’s with Buick? I still see the occasional ad on TV and yet the drop is disproportionate even compared to all the other GM brands.
  • Master Baiter "There is no mandate for consumers to buy EVs, not in any country or state. That’s made up."Right. And you are not mandated to purchase a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons/flush. You could choose to not have a toilet--just go in the woods, like the bears do.