How Covid Changed the Way I Drive

Coronavirus taught me about space. Well, let me rephrase that—coronavirus changed the way I drive, and that taught me about space.

Space, I have come to understand with crystal clarity, is important for safety. “Please stay six feet apart,” and “maintain social distancing” were the mantras pounded into our heads through most of 2020. I got used to having calls with my editors on Nexi (Bloomberg’s own, proprietary Zoom), and conversations with friends through the rolled-down windows of our passing cars. Distant, indeed.

One of my favorite safe spaces this year quickly became my car.

I should tell you a little about it—a 1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow LWB (long wheelbase) in olive green with “Belize brown” leather interior. It has a steering wheel the diameter of a beach ball and the width of my forefinger. The doors are lined in burled walnut and rosewood. The interior smells like leather polish. There’s an eight-track tape player.

I acquired it in August as a rather impromptu trade against my black 1988 Mercedes 560SL. They’re cheaper to buy than you might think; the real cost comes in maintaining their complex hydraulic systems and quirky electronics. (Along with vintage Jaguars and Lotuses, older British cars are known for that.) 

There’s a saying: “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Rolls-Royce.” I ignored it. “Well, they certainly don’t mean this one!” I smugly thought to myself as I signed the paperwork. What can I say? Every rookie marketer knows car buying is an emotional, rather than a rational endeavor. Do as I say, not as I do.

But really, the car has been exceptional, needing only a new battery and minor visit(s) to Charlie the mechanic to fiddle with the wires ensuring that all four windows will roll up and down nicely. I love how its overall presence—the massive, polished front grille, the long ship-like sides, the goddess muse at the helm, robes flowing behind her like wings—makes me feel like a million bucks wherever I go. The AC blows ice cubes. Even the radio works!

This year, I drove more in my own car than ever—for my own pleasure, on non-work-related trips, and for (distanced) meet-ups with friends. A large part of that has been because after Covid-19 hit, and after years of having the best of both worlds living in New York but traveling weekly to the West Coast or some other place together, I stayed in Los Angeles for the duration to be with my boyfriend and now, with Willow, a German shepherd.  

How Covid Changed the Way I Drive

We found ourselves exploring new places together from behind the wheel: the coastline up Big Sur, the outer reaches of the desert near Joshua Tree, the abandoned Salton Sea, and Idyllwild, a mountain town. We’d drive out to Yucca Valley for the afternoon, or I’d just tool around Silverlake, looking for that elusive Frank Gehry or Neutra house. We’d cruise up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, making it back to downtown L.A. in just 12 minutes—it typically takes an hour. These were places we would not have had the time to experience under our previous routines of monthly, sometimes weekly, air travel. 

But here’s the thing: Driving the Silver Shadow has forced me to slow down. It’s a 45-year-old machine, let’s not forget, with brakes that require an appointment and steering that I find delightfully light, but some might consider vague to the point of insanity. (If you ever find yourself behind the wheel of a similar coach, I recommend no sudden movements.)

I drive it as if I’m doing a Wim Hof, or how I imagine Queen Elizabeth maintains her regal bearing through hours of greeting her subjects: Inhale, exhale. Just b r e a t h e. You may be going nowhere fast, but in a car like this, you feel right on time.

The pandemic has forced me to conceive of my car as destination, rather than as mere conveyance. It’s a safe coach, big enough to hold those in my own little quarantine tribe (man and dog) and every little thing I need at a given time: freedom, music, fresh air, companionship, time to think. Its old broadsides are a welcome respite from the tyranny of technology that has dominated the rest of Covid—as either necessity or coping mechanism. 

I love everything analog about driving it, from the organ stop-style cold metal vents in the wooden dashboard to the spring-loaded lever I have to push to open the gas flap. I have to slam the doors closed and wait to make sure the finicky dome lights go off—or find out later that Monsieur le Rolls has died. Again. Let’s just say it has happened so often that I purchased an extra set of jumper cables as a stocking stuffer. (Romantic, I know.)

I adore the eight-track player, which came with two boxes of tapes, mostly old Elvis and country music; friends helped me add some Aerosmith. And when I’m not in the mood, I adore the silence. This is as radical a diversion as any for me, someone who needs constant music or news in the background, who used to roll my eyes every time a “car guy” would claim he never used the radio because he “just wanted to listen to the sound of the engine.”

Driving through Covid-19  has helped me appreciate a life without endless chatter. I’m not going to put forth some cliché about silence being golden, but I will tell you that the need for constant stimulus is an addiction in and of itself. It’s one that as a longtime New Yorker I live and breathe, but it’s healthy—even constructive—to turn it off regularly.

Which brings me to the second point I want to make about space: It is essential for creative work.

“Writing is looking for music between sentences,” Doors drummer John Densmore told Marc Maron recently on his popular WTF podcast. It’s the space between the lines, Densmore says, that is the secret to brilliance, not the lines themselves. That’s why tribute acts never adequately replicate Willie Nelson—Willie’s magic comes from the space he leaves between the notes.

How Covid Changed the Way I Drive

As someone who writes for a living, the idea resonated with me. Oftentimes, having the mind space to masticate what I want to say, even before I sit down to write, makes the difference between a compellingly written piece and one that lacks impulsion.

Slowing down means space. Space means focus, space means time, space means distance from distraction. I like the idea that an old car driven nowhere fast during a global pandemic could be the vessel to deliver all of that.  

The eight-track I listened to on the first day I drove the Shadow home, still in the player from who-knows-how-long, carried Willie Nelson. I take it as a sign I’m moving in the right direction.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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