Reading While Driving
by Michael Lacare
Whenever I drive, I often find myself reading a book. Not an E-book, but an actual hardcover or paperback book. I don’t do this every time I’m driving, nor do I do it if there happens to be someone else with me in the car, but typically when I’m riding solo.
I pry open the book at a stoplight, prop it up against the steering wheel and gaze down at the words. Every sentence or two, I habitually glance up at the light. Once it turns green, I hold the book up with my right hand while I grip the top of the wheel with my left. I’ve become quite adept at the art of reading while operating heavy machinery, and I’m convinced that no one is more skillful at it than me.
As of October 1, 2013, the state of Florida banned texting while driving, but nowhere does it say anything about perusing a good book. I know what you’re thinking: Distracted driving is still dangerous and I’ve got to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to even consider it, but I couldn’t help and think about all that time I spend behind the wheel, and how many books that equates to. I once read Steinbeck’s, The Winter of Our Discontent entirely from behind a steering wheel. If people can apply make-up or stare at their GPS devices, I figure I could catch up on my reading.
This works especially well on interstates, since there is less stop-and-go traffic. There I am, barreling down the highway somewhere in the vicinity of 70-80 MPH, my hair disheveled from the wind, all the while absorbing Russian literature.
I’ve spotted other drivers committing equal, if not, worse offenses, by gabbing incessantly on their phones, or head-banging to music that blares from speakers that make your chest thump. There’s the soccer mom who’s distracted by her kids; a father who spends an excessive amount of time reaching behind his seat to discipline his children; a pet owner who permits their dog to sit on their lap, as though the Bull Mastiff was the one actually doing the driving; and last but not least, the law enforcement officer who is much too preoccupied with her built-in laptop that protrudes from the dash.
One time I stopped at a light and a man in the car next to me, sitting in the passenger seat, caught me reading. We locked eyes for a moment or two and when the light changed, the car he was riding in darted forward and I never saw him again.
Geez, I thought. I never got the chance to tell him that The Road by Cormac McCarthy had altered my life for the better.
This brings me to the long-form novel. I don’t bother with these in the car, since the longer the book, the heavier it tends to be and the more difficult it becomes to hold with one hand.
The other day, I observed a woman chomping down on a burger and fries while she drove, pushing the burger deep into the recesses of her mouth with both hands, and steering the wheel with her knee. I wondered if eating in the car had been a habit with her, or was this just an isolated case. Maybe she was running late for an appointment. I often tried justifying these kinds of things in my mind.
When I drove from New York to Florida, I watched a man change out of his suit and tie, and into a T-shirt and shorts, all the while driving down I-95.
He’s got game, I thought and let my eyes drift back down to the book I was reading. I started it the day before I left on my trip and by the time I reached the Blackjack Oaks and Slash Pines of South Carolina, I was more than three-quarters of the way through.
My hope is to make the transition to crossword puzzles, and not the easy ones found on the racks of grocery checkout lanes, the ones where the average clue reads something like, What’s a three-letter word for feline? I’m referring to the Sunday New York Times edition, the grand Poobah of crosswords.
Picture this: I’m coursing down Route 66 with the top down and the end of a pencil in my mouth thinking, a seven-letter word for Distracted is Abashed.
Life is good.
Michael Lacare‘s essays have previously appeared in Salon.com and other magazines. He currently lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and children.