Gas stations fascinate me. Especially the ones that actually work on cars. Put them up on hydraulic lifts and get under them with ratchets and screwdrivers and stare up into the complexities of gaskets and grease. The ones in which a bell rings when your car passes over a hose. Do they even exist anymore? Most of the gas stations now have minimarts, candy and bottled water and girlie magazines. They don’t work on cars. They just offer gas. It’s the ones with mechanics and penlights that I like. The ones with an ambiance of grease and gears, voltage and definition. Those stations. The ones in which everything is brisk. Everything is vivid. Everything is loud and determined. The smells are strong. The camaraderie is strong. The exchanges are strong. Discernments are made. Things are fixed. That’s what’s so fantastic about these places: things get fixed.
Working on a car is a full immersion. Each car is a canto in a long poem which is the highway.
I’ve always liked cars. This is a difficult thing to admit when so many species are dying and floods are destroying communities due to catastrophic climate change. We’ve left the Holocene and entered a new geologic epoch, one in which a mass extinction event is in progress.
I grew up with cars. Everybody had a car. Everybody needed a car. It’s the way the society is built. It’s built around cars. It’s only been very recently that some cities, such as Bordeaux in France, have begun prohibiting cars from their downtown streets.
Having a car as a kid meant freedom. You had a way to get out of the house and stay out of the house until you got your own house.
It remains a good feeling. That feeling that I can get into a machine and cover huge distances and within hours find myself in an utterly new region with different cities and different climates and topographies. I can get up and get in the car and go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Or Winnemucca, Nevada. It would take 33 hours to drive to San Antonio, Texas. Twenty-four to get to Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where I first entered this world and spent my early childhood.
No one feels trapped when they have a car. The freedom might be illusory, but it’s a compelling sensation, provided you’ve got enough money for gas, and everything is working.
Having a direction is crucial. It’s a way to inhabit space. Space is terrifying without a direction. The dizziness of freedom, to quote Kierkegaard. That’s what raw, bare space is all about: the dizziness of freedom. Having a direction takes the edge off.
A direction doesn’t have to be geographical, it can be mental, spiritual or intellectual. Having the freedom to change your idea about something or alter your attitude is terrific. But nothing beats having a destination in physical space. A greasy spoon in Tenino, Washington, or Elysium Mons on Mars.
It’s wonderful to get into a car, start the engine, crank the wheel and head out to some location.
Time has direction. I can only move forward through time. Time has the appearance of moving forward. I can’t make a U-turn and go the other way. Return to my youth. I can only age. Acquire more wrinkles. Acquire more wisdom. Is wisdom a place? Yes, I believe it is. It doesn’t have a border, but it does have skills and stationary.
Direction doesn’t crackle, hover, or leak. It’s a phenomenon, not an object. An airplane can have multiple directions but no immanent transcendence. That is to say, it can have immanent transcendence, but you’re going to have to look for it. You can’t locate it on a radar screen.
Direction is a component of space. We’re seduced into space by direction. Direction is how we experience space. Without direction, space would be horrifying.
I have different moods for different directions. Going east makes me happy. Going west makes me earnest. Going south makes me obstinate. Going north makes me impulsive and sad.
The best feeling is to be heading south to California on a sunny day in June.
The most humbling and exalting is to stand under the stars in Long Beach, Washington. The ocean moves in and flops down on the sand and retreats with that funny hissing sound. And up there, in the sky, gazillions of stars that shine with an ancient light, light that has taken millions of years to reach your eyes.