Man is by nature a nomad. He must be constantly on the move. No sooner settled comfortably in one spot, he begins dreaming about some imaginary paradise that lies just beyond the horizon. Then off he goes, singing, “Val-da-re, val-da-ra...” The automobile has been a boon to this urge. No longer must man walk forth on “shank’s mare.” Now he only has to hop in his auto and head down the highway, destination unknown, just to satisfy the urge to go.
I understand that global warming, pollution and dependency on foreign oil have put driving in an unfavorable light. But I can’t help it. I love to drive. Driving gives me a sense of purpose. It fulfills my need to “do something.” Moreover, I get my best ideas behind the wheel. Storming from the house in a fit of restlessness, I get in the car, lay a strip of rubber, and off I go fishing-tailing before a cloud of dust. At once, a blizzard of ideas pummels my brain. I can get them driving fast or slow, but my best ideas come when I’m driving well above the speed limit with my car set on cruise control.
Racing eastward on Kansas Highway 10 the other day, pursued by a dozen squad cars with sirens wailing, I was possessed by a Big Idea. It occurred to me that Americans drive too much. We need to relearn the values of sitting still and taking time to smell the roses. With that idea under my belt, I cut a brodie and headed back home, leaving my pursuers at the Eudora exit in a hiatus of bewilderment. Let me make this clear: That idea would not have occurred to me if I hadn’t been out for a drive.
Driving on 458 past the Well’s Overlook recently, I had another idea: Tattoos were once rare. They usually signified a drunken night in Shanghai during a stint in the Navy. A heart pierced by an arrow with the caption “Mom” was about the extent of the repertoire. Today, a man or woman with no tattoos is an aberration. It would be hard to find someone whose flesh isn’t completely covered with three-headed dogs, man-eating manticores, fire-breathing dragons, comic book heros, verses of haiku. Think what that’s done to the Tattooed Lady. It’s put her out of business. Same with the Fat Man. The obesity epidemic has made his once respectable vocation obsolete, driven him from the state fair circuit into the ranks of the unemployed, another casualty of the “creative destruction” feature of our ruthless capitalistic system. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Ideas have a way doing that. (Idea #2301, Wells Overlook, June 12, 2012, 127 mph.)
I was driving to the airport once. I didn’t have a flight to catch. A burning need to go for a drive drove me from my easy chair. Just after I entered Missouri, I saw a sign that said: “Hit a worker — $10,000 fine.” I was overcome by outrage. Ten thousand dollars — that’s all? Big game guides in Alaska charge that much to bag a polar bear. If you want to cut down on workers hit by cars, threaten the perpetrators with confiscation of their assets and a slow death by torture. Come on, people. Make the punishment fit the crime.
True, none of my ideas has yet produced a profit or been put to practical use. I leave that to minds that are not busy gathering ideas. And who knows when I might get an idea that would be of lasting benefit to humanity? It’s said that a room full of monkeys typing forever would eventually reproduce the manuscript for “Hamlet.” Isn’t it likely that if I keep going for drives and fielding ideas I’ll eventually come up with an idea worthy of Shakespeare or Einstein?
So let’s not fall too quickly for faddish notions that call for cutting back on gas-guzzling autos and aimless Sunday drives. In fact, the government ought to subsidize people like me who get ideas while driving. By the way, I come from a family of idea men. Take my son, an inventor. The other day announced his most recent “Eureka!” moment.
“I lie down in the bath tub and turn the shower on,” he said. “It’s a two-for-one, bath-in-a-shower thing.” Of course, I’m proud of the lad. Ideas like that one put him in the company of geniuses such as Thomas Alva Edison. Someone is interested in making a video of him, demonstrating how his new invention works.
“But I told them they’d have to wait until I lose a little weight,” he said.