Driving for many is a boring, monotonous task filled with exhausting traffic, everlasting red lights and too many stop signs. It’s often an unavoidable process taking the driver from one point to another.
The average American commuter spends 54 hours in traffic congestion every year. The more recent 2020 Global INRIX Traffic Scorecard names Chicago as the third most congested U.S. city with a segment of the Eisenhower Expressway being the most congested road in the nation.
However, some students cherish driving as a pastime beyond just the journey toward a destination. As an opportunity to blast music with friends, relieve stress and reflect on recent events in what seems like an out-of-control world, driving gives students a sense of freedom and control in a unique, fast-paced environment.
“Whatever is going on in my life, the road I can control, and my car I can control,” senior Sana Shahul said, “and, like, that feeling of enjoying the space that you’re in and really being able to fully feel that you’re having a good time is quite enjoyable.”
Sana drives a red Subaru named Oscar, after Irish poet Oscar Wilde. In control of Oscar’s wheel, Sana is unfazed by the traffic.
“I could be sitting in the worst traffic ever, and it, like, doesn’t bother me because I’m not going anywhere.”
Sana uses driving as a way to overcome writer’s block in composing poetry. She opens her Voice Memos app and just lets herself talk as her phone records.
“Sonder,” one of the poems inspired by her driving, is about a purple light on Lake Shore Drive. She usually sees it on her drives, but one day, it was no longer there.
“The poem that came from that was the experience that I have no idea who you are, but the act of you turning on your light inspired me and how we each have our own inner light that we use to inspire others,” Sana said, “and collectively, we all put something out in the world, just like we do when we turn on our light.”
Being in the car also gives Sana a chance to reflect on her life from the recent events of the past week to her high school experience as a whole.
“I’m a very reflective person just to see, like, what went well this week and what do I want to change for next week, just because I’m seeming to do a lot,” Sana said.
Driving time is also reflection time for sophomore Charlie Benton, who spends his time behind the wheel thinking about important topics like tests and in-person learning. He volunteers for errands such as picking up a food order and uses the drive to fully step away from school work.
“I have this feeling where I should be constantly doing something, constantly working on homework, doing a paper, and driving, it puts me in a position where I literally cannot do any work, and my brain is able to shut off,” Charlie said.
Beyond relaxation and reflection, driving also provides a space for hanging out with friends. From the ability to take friends in his car, Charlie derives a sense of independence.
“When I got my license, and especially when COVID wasn’t as bad, I kind of gained this whole new freedom and in the sense that I was able to commute me and X people to a different location,” Charlie said.
For senior Charlie Brennan, drives with friends sometimes provide an opportunity for deep conversations.
“I feel like we often get into more serious conversations in the car, just because for some reason, everyone just feels like they can be a little bit more candid and honest,” Charlie Brennan said.
On a particularly memorable occasion in the car, Sana remembers rapping to Nicki Minaj and laughing with friends during a drive with friends after watching “Frozen 2.”
“All of us were just laughing, making jokes, and these are, like, some of my all-time favorite people, my whole world, just like all laughing and vibing with each other and having great memories.”
With the potential to create so many memories, driving for Sana is much more than just a journey toward a destination.
“From friends, to conversations, to poems that just like came out of the blue, every single memory of my car is a happy one,” Sana said, “so when I go in there, like no matter what energy I’m bringing into it, I know that I will always leave with good energy.”