The Joy of (Not) Driving

rental car, AspensFor someone who doesn’t own a car, I do like driving. There’s nothing I like more than a long road trip, especially one out west. Over the summer, I flew out to Colorado and then spent a week driving around, taking in hip Denver neighborhoods, the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park and the wide open spaces of Wyoming.

The previous summer, I started in Las Vegas and did the drive of a lifetime, cruising down Highway 12 in Utah, enjoying red rock deserts and serpentine descents down black asphalt without another car in sight.

A few years before that, I rented a car in DC, drove over the green Appalachians and kept going, across the deep South, through a Texas blighted by drought and then up through New Mexico before returning via the endless prairies of Kansas.

There is something uniquely American about taking a road trip. It’s the experience of being the only car on the road, two lanes stretching to the horizon under a bright sky empty of clouds. Of driving beyond the FM signal, where you only have scratchy AM radio filled with preachers promising damnation. Of stopping in a small town somewhere, to hear your tires crunching under gravel.


Every year, I drive down to Florida for the holidays. I love it. Thirteen hours of drinking coffee and listening to NPR. I have it down to a science – I leave on Sunday mornings (little traffic) and spend the night at a super-quiet Residence Inn outside Savannah. The next morning, I leave early, get to Florida, detour off I-95 to Jax Beach or Ormond Beach, then head on to my parents place in Orlando.

In Florida, people without cars are regarded as freaks. You assume they’re homeless – why are they walking? Biking is done on trails or sidewalks. Without a car, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of the vast subdivision where my parents live.

Over the Xmas break, I had a ton of fun driving. I went to the beach, explored new neighborhoods and went to my favorite Cuban place (twice).

Cuban sandwich

And seeing how cheap gas was – $1.65 a gallon! – I began to think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a car?”

For someone who doesn't own a car, I do like driving, especially when the gas is this cheap. Was having loads of fun until I entered the leviathan road sprawl of our nation's capital. 60 miles of stop and go traffic on I-95 reminded me how much I hate dri

I thought that way until I reached Richmond on the way back. Sixty miles of stop-and-go traffic, from exit to exit, accelerating and braking, three lanes of cars inching toward DC. An ambulance roared by on the shoulder. WTOP reported a gang of ATV riders terrorizing drivers on the Beltway. They had stopped traffic and were setting fires.

After Springfield, traffic accelerated again, a mad rush into the city, sixty miles an hour, cars on one side, concrete barriers on the other. With a massive thump as I hit a pothole, I crossed the bridge into the city. A homeless man limped toward me at a light. I paused to let pedestrians cross and the driver behind me yelled, “Fuck you!” Ah, yes, the traditional greeting to the city.

I watched the car disappear at Avis, leaving me on the sidewalk with my foldy bike. This feeling of relief as you get rid of a car – there needs to be a word for it. Freedom, I suppose. On the bike, I knew I could cruise up to Whole Foods and get dinner. Or go to the Greek place at Dupont. Or go down to the Mall. In a car, I’d have to navigate one-way streets, traffic and where would I park the damn thing? The ability to go anywhere is why a bike is freedom in DC.

Foldy bike at the Lincoln Memorial

Outside the leviathan sprawl of our nation’s capital, I am happy to drive. Within the DC metro region, however, I bike. It’s fast, easy and fun. Driving is none of those things in DC. I’ll save my driving for the wide open roads of the West.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel The Swamp, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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