By on January 7, 2021

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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10 Comments on “The Oddly Simple Joy of the Pandemic Drive...”

  • avatar

    I’ve been doing the “just drive” thing too.
    We have more good local roads for driving than I knew about until 2020 happened.
    It helps that I can drive my Mustang with the top down while checking out the local countryside.

    This may be the one habit that I keep from last year- I’d just as soon forget most of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I’ve put roughly 20,000 miles on my A4 in the past year alone on pointless drives around upstate NY, western Mass, Eastern Penn because of the ‘stir craziness’ that working from home induces.

  • avatar

    Thankfully I have a boat to escape. About mid-year track days returned so I could get my fast drive fix.

    The lack of local traffic was nice… while it lasted. However about 4 months ago I noticed the stacks of slow moving vehicles in front of me increased. Living in FL its mostly snowbirds returning, but those nearly traffic free days are already a memory on my streets.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Nothing much has changed for me as far as the pandemic is concerned. I drive the truck to work whenever I can’t drive the car ( snow and ice or repairs on the car ) and then run a Caterpillar iso-booth all day. The car is more fun but it’s in the car-hole at the moment – and not even on ramps or jack stands, weirdly.

    After playing music nearly every damned weekend for 25 years I rarely go ‘out’ for leisure. You’d have to pay me to go to a bar… I do miss the studio scene but that would more often than not devolve into many beers and sloppy takes. I can record at home and submit tracks, anyway. Sometimes they get sloppy, too!

    tl;dr: I drive all day – alone – and have done for several years now. No real changes here. Wife and kids are healthy and happy and no loss of income. Stay the course, all.

  • avatar

    I haven’t gone on any long trips to the lower mainland. I usually do that a few times per year. I’ve gone on multiple very long round trip bike rides this year. I did a 588km run and repeated it 2 days later with buddies. I racked up 10,000 km on my bike. That’s not much on a touring bike but it’s a lot when my bike is a 400cc dualsport on knobbie tires. 2/3 of that distance was on gravel roads or single-track.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Great observation! In perhaps the ultimate expression of that spirit, in August, my wife and I drove our truck — pulling a 28′ Airstream — across the country to visit our new (1st!) grandson in California. We stayed out there about a month — living in the trailer — and then drove back home. Our imperatives were more pedestrian: he was born in March and we wanted to see him as a baby; and we figured the trailer was the safest way to get there (which proved to be correct). I would not call towing a 7600 lb. trailer “fun”; it’s work as I constantly have to pay close attention to what’s going on around me, mindful of the length and mass of what I nominally am commanding.

    Yet, having made the transcontinental drive six times now (different routes each time!), my wife and I find the whole experience educational and fun. As an Ivy League-educated “coastie,” I think it’s good to “get out once in a while.” Unfortunately, Covid-19 put a damper on social interactions during our last trip — as compared to previous trips — but still.

    Despite all of the opprobrium heaped on us by “save the planet, take transit types,” a car really is more than just transportation. It’s an experience.

  • avatar

    before I put the fun cars away for the winter, I have been doing the same. I know a few roads in the NW burbs which are fun and scenic.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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