Sitting in Cars

Posted: November 29, 2014 in Culture, Health, Idle Nonsense
Tags: ,

I’m fortunate to spend minimal time in my car. I’ve logged fewer than 5,000 miles in each of the last 5 years or more, but I still find owning a vehicle indispensable for some of my activities. So when I’m out and about, it’s more likely that I’m walking on the sidewalk, pedaling my bicycle, or riding public transportation. Each has its own dynamic, but I have been noticing lately that there are surprising number of people sitting in their cars, engines running. The bicycle in particular requires hypervigilance on my part so that someone doesn’t open the car door into my path, and as I ride by I take notice of an unexpectedly large number of occupants of cars going nowhere.

Because of the durations involved, my sense is that car sitters aren’t in the process of entering and exiting; maybe they’re waiting on another person. There is almost always a smartphone or tablet active in front of their faces. Sometimes, they are sitting and smoking, listening to radio, or talking on the phone. Nonetheless, the cabin of an automobile strikes me as an odd place to hang out (and burn fuel).

I can’t profess to understand fully what’s at work here, but it’s clearly not as exceptional as I might have believed. My conjecture is that the interior of the car represents a defined personal space or refuge. It may not be entering a cocoon or reentering the womb exactly, but both comparisons spring to mind. I note, too, that walling oneself off from the external world, however temporarily, and exerting total control over the immediate environment may provide a fleeting sense of security, privacy, and wholeness lost in the wider world we inhabit. I can’t say if a growing number of automobile hermits are using their cars to regain personal equilibrium before rejoining and confronting the world anew every day. Perhaps one my my readers can provide an explanation or point to some research.

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