|Now you see it....|
The petrol station pictured above isn’t there any more. A new junction opened on the A12 this month with a bigger petrol station nearby, instantly rendering the old one superfluous. It was of no great architectural or historic significance, just a convenient place for me to stop for fuel and artery-busting fried corn snacks. It closed last week, and within three days it was gone.
And this got me to thinking, for what will be my last post on Roadwork for 2010, about the transient nature of everything we see on the road and at the roadside.
|....now you don't.|
I possess a copy of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance but I’ve only made it half way through the first chapter so far. I bought the book for its cultural reputation, and because I hoped it would somehow make me a better person. Truth is, though, as much as I respect other people’s philosophies of the road, I’d rather create my own. And, I suspect, so would you.
On a car journey, any car journey, we get to see a lot of scenery in a short period of time. It’s educational, you get to see stuff you previously wouldn’t get a chance to, and every so often you chance upon a place you’ve read about, or has been mentioned by somebody, that you’ve always wondered about. This is probably what I like most about driving, because I can enjoy it even when I’m not testing a car to its limits.
What we don’t consider, because it doesn’t really matter, is that we’re only seeing a snapshot. We see things as we drive for only a few milliseconds of their life. If you ever take the same route more than once, is what you saw the first time still there? Has it changed? Was it what you thought it was? The car you saw parked outside the church, were they there to pray or to dig the weeds? Was their journey to church made in sorrow or determination? The man on the bike you just passed, cycle courier or future Prime Minister?
We make snap judgements as we drive. The other day, distracted momentarily, I allowed my car to drift slightly out of my lane into the path of the lorry I was overtaking. The driver immediately went for the horn and then moved on to flicking two-fingered salutes and gesturing that I self-abuse on a regular basis. Nice bloke, I thought. And that was my immediate impression. He had never met me before, or since, so his overall opinion of me is that I’m a careless bastard who swerves all over the road. My view of him is that he’s a impatient sod with little humanity who is prone to condemning fellow road-users in short order. We’re both guilty of acting out of passion.
We judge everything we see on the split-second we spend looking at it. It takes more than a few passing glances before we know the full story.
I’m a sentimental bugger, for sure, but there’s a bus-stop I pass each day where I watched a story unfold every morning. Driving to work in early September, there were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, standing in silence. I used to pass them as they waited for their bus, always standing apart, always looking blankly ahead. I began to see him looking at her every now and again, and then, after several weeks, I finally saw them in conversation. As the weeks passed, the conversations became more frequent. Before too long I saw them laughing together, by now sitting side by side on the hard bench.
The morning I passed and saw the girl with her arm around the boy, I felt a small tear of joy well up in the corner of my eye. I had been willing this romance to blossom and thought of pulling up alongside, offering my congratulations, maybe giving them a card or buying them a drink. Then I realised I couldn’t, because I was a voyeur on their private world.
I had been just another car as I passed them every day at ten past eight. At the very most they might have noticed that the same car went past at the same time every day, but it wouldn’t have occurred to them that I had been charting their relationship, encouraging him to “talk to her, for heavens sake”. And then my romanticism and misty-eyed ideals come tumbling down, when I realise I don’t know what their circumstances actually are.
Maybe what was unfolding before me wasn’t the obvious boy-meets-girl tale I thought it was. Perhaps he was an adoptive brother? Maybe a shy girl coming to terms with her homosexuality, and bravely leaning on the boys shoulder for advice? Perhaps they had already been together, had separated and were now reconciling their differences? Maybe their reluctance to talk was because they spoke different languages? Perhaps what brought them together was discussing the strange guy in the BMW who looks at them as he passes each morning?
Maybe I think too much. Maybe everybody else should think a little more. More than anything though, I’m going to must make sure that I see value in every glimpse I see as I drive along. Nothing is there forever, everything happens for a reason and I really ought to consider what I pass a little more carefully. Maybe every journey should mean a little more to me.
I hope 2011 brings you all that you hope for. Happy new year.