GOING SLOW: Lessons from a broken down car

Rocky Mountain foothillsI was driving along the highway at 60 mph in a wrinkled and greying old Dodge K car that I’d bought a month earlier when it suddenly died on me. I pulled to the shoulder and tried starting it up again. Nothing. Again and again I tried with no luck. Then I decided to give it a 15-minute rest before trying again. Success!

After a few days driving without incident, I thought that would be a one-time occurrence. It wasn’t. The engine continued to die on me while driving. Sometimes it would go days. Sometimes it would conk out six times in a single half-hour drive—averaging about one breakdown per outing. Different speeds, gears, fuel levels—there was no pattern to it. I went to the mechanic three times, desperately trying to get it fixed, without any luck. Because the breakdowns happened irregularly, I couldn’t even narrow down the problem and to fuel the frustration, there were times that I went to the mechanic when it worked totally fine, wasting both his time and mine.

Rather than get angry or frustrated I figured I might as well just accept the situation. I tried to see the positive. Having a car that could break down at any minute gave me a sense of insecurity that helped me become more flexible and accepting. My driving life was no longer mundane and routine. I accepted that the car could break down at any moment and viewed this as a way to bless my circumstances. It is what it is, so I might as well make the most of it.

I would drive in the slow lane, about 10 mph slower than the speed limit. Though it was still too fast to pick out the kind of detail in the scenery that can be seen while walking or biking, driving at this speed afforded a much better view of the mighty Ponderosa pines and red rock of the Rocky Mountain foothills that I regularly drove through.

One day my car broke down beside a farm. After pulling onto the shoulder I looked over to my immediate left to see a chocolate-brown horse standing just a few metres away, casually munching on some grass. As I sat in my car I didn’t feel the need to immediately get going again. I just sat and absorbed the calmness of the horse and the quaintness of the pastoral scenery. How often had I passed this very spot without noticing this amazing animal and overlooking the beauty of the land? No longer, thanks to my broken down car.

broken down K carThis car wasn’t just slow, it was a joker.I attended a daytime dance session in Boulder one Sunday afternoon. As I was leaving I couldn’t get the car started, so did the regular ignition ritual over and over. The ensuing drama attracted its share of attention. Finally, the ignition clicked and I revved the engine to a roar of applause from those gathered in the parking lot. I was giving a lift to a guy I met at the dance, having forewarned him that it may be a slow ride.  I pulled out onto the road and was doing fine for a few minutes when the car decided to choke up in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city, which also happened to be the site of a car accident some minutes earlier. The police were on the scene directing traffic and there I was thrashing my key in the ignition hoping I wouldn’t get a ticket for… let’s see … unsafe car? Obstructing traffic? I’m sure there was at least one (possibly several) laws that I was breaking. At this point the guy next to me was looking kind of nervous and complained about the car not starting up. The cops were waving me to get out of the intersection. I poked my head out the window and shouted that I couldn’t. They offered to give me a push. This being a main road with large buildings and few entrances the two officers pushed for two minutes, which felt a lot longer. The push ended in an apartment building driveway at which point my passenger piped up about why he was getting so agitated. “This is the house of my ex-girlfriend who took out a restraining order against me.”

Mr. K and I parted ways after six months when I traded it in for a more reliable, but still very used, rust-and-tan-coloured Nissan Altima. I was surprised that I made it that long in the breakdown box, but I couldn’t help sticking with it for a while with all the lessons and unlikely entertainment it delivered. Yes it was a pain in the ass. But it was a fun pain in the ass that taught me a lot.

It taught me to go slow. Car travel is so fast… so unnaturally fast. Yet we don’t even think about the fact that we’re hurtling along at 10 times faster than we can run for several hours every week. What are we missing along the way? Does that scenery even exist when our tunnel vision eyes are locked, mind trapped in highway hypnosis? It does, and it is delightful. Though I live thousands of miles from those foothills now, I vividly remember them. It’s not just because of their movie star beauty, but because of the fact that I truly remember them. And for that I am thankful to Mr. K for helping to show me that beauty is present not at intervals, but moment-to-moment. We can experience and appreciate that beauty every moment of every day. We just have to go slow and look.

by Kiva Bottero

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Posted by× December 11, 2012 at 4:42 AM

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