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Exploring the Sights: David Murdock’s Reflections on Driving and Being Driven

On several occasions within the past month, my brother and I have traveled to Birmingham. Typically, I handle the driving for my journeys, but whenever we venture out together, Greg takes the wheel. Experiencing the role of a passenger rather than the driver is a rare delight for me.

While driving, one’s primary focus is on the road and surrounding traffic. Decades ago, when my father taught me how to drive, he emphasized the importance of this aspect.

My father, a trucker who always referred to himself as a “professional driver,” often spoke about maintaining a comprehensive awareness of the traffic environment surrounding you.

During those lessons, he would spontaneously quiz me about the actions of other vehicles nearby. He possessed an uncanny ability to anticipate their movements. As a result, I remain acutely aware of the positions and speeds of other vehicles relative to mine.

Do I observe my surroundings? Certainly. However, during my daily commute, my attention is primarily drawn to exceptional occurrences. When embarking on a road trip, I tend to notice more details, albeit at a slower pace.

When Greg assumes the role of the driver, my observational skills are heightened. Furthermore, these occasions afford me the luxury of engaging in leisurely conversations with him, a rare treat that deserves its own separate discussion.

I am more inclined to notice distant elements off the road when Greg is behind the wheel.

Now, at this juncture in my narrative, I face a divergence in the “writing road” – I could delve into the specifics of our recent trips, or I could provide an overview of the entire experience.

The topics of our conversations have already been dismissed. Generally, I tend to spot something new, inquire about it if needed, and tap into Greg’s wealth of travel knowledge to learn about its history. He usually has the answers.

We often reminisce about various locations we pass by. On our last journey, passing by a Jack’s diner sparked a memory for me, leading to a story about why I frequented that particular spot.

The most significant disparity for me between driving and being driven lies in the aspect of sightseeing. Riding with Greg allows me to unwind completely and appreciate the surroundings in a way that would be challenging if I were driving myself to Birmingham. This experience becomes more immersive as we approach Birmingham itself, a city I seldom visit, offering a plethora of sights to behold.

I understand that many of you residing in Etowah County or nearby might not grasp the novelty of my perspective. While numerous individuals here commute to Birmingham daily for work or frequent the city for various activities, I do not share the same routine. Hence, nearly everything along the route is a fresh sight for me.

The intriguing part is that when I do drive to Birmingham myself, I often return with a list of queries for Greg about the things I observed en route.

During our last trip, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be a profound life lesson embedded in this observation. The closer we got to home, the more intense this realization became. By the time Greg dropped me off at my place, the epiphany was overwhelming.

Beyond the obvious disparity between driving and being driven, my contemplations veered towards the multifaceted meanings of “to drive” in our cultural lexicon. We often attribute “driven” to individuals with a fervent determination to achieve their goals, a concept that, to me, sounds draining. However, in my personal experiences, any endeavor I describe as “driven” brings me immense joy. It’s akin to traveling with my brother at the wheel – an opportunity to observe and appreciate details that might otherwise go unnoticed.

This metaphor extends seamlessly to various aspects of life. For instance, my passion for reading and writing embodies a dynamic interplay between being driven and driving. Reading represents being driven, while writing symbolizes taking the lead. I derive immense pleasure from absorbing the thoughts of others through reading, just as I relish articulating my own perspectives through writing. My journals are a testament to this cycle of absorbing and creating.

The revelations that emerge during my reading never fail to astound me. Just recently, while perusing a book, the author referenced a John Donne poem. Although I had previously read all of Donne’s poetry, I had never grasped that particular interpretation, prompting me to revisit the entire poem. This experience is akin to exploring a side road out of curiosity, much like the detours we take while journeying to Birmingham with Greg at the helm.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my life seems to be unfolding like a path – where roads simply represent paved trails.

David Murdock is an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College. He can be contacted at [ppp2]. The opinions expressed are his own.