You know, it's really sad that to most people, driving is so passive. People want a car that not only does all the work for them, it does all the thinking as well. No one wants to put any thought into their driving. This is the appeal of things like automatic transmissions. This is why no one knows how to drive - no one puts any THOUGHT into it. They just want to sit back, relax, and ez-chair their way from point A to point B. Commuting is a nuisance, a chore. I bet people subconsciously think 'I wish I could just kick back and close my eyes and let the car do all the thinking.' DVD players and video games in your car? WTF? I am the biggest video game advocate you'll find, but I don't freaking want them in my car.
I started thinking about this while reading about different models of Miatas. I read something that talked about how one particular model had stiff shocks, but some people replaced them with softer ones "for a more civilized feel to their daily driver."
Civilized? What does that mean? What does being civil even have to do with the way a car handles and feels? The only thing I can think of that would be civilized would be a car that has road feel; a car that doesn't shield me from the experience with soft suspension and an automatic transmisision; a car that communicates with me at all points.
I am not one of the great thoughtless masses. When I sit down in my car, start him up, push in the clutch and brake, feel the rubber o-rings on my Jackson Racing shift knob, my awareness level changes. My focus is on driving, and nothing else is in my mind. My eyes are constantly and alertly scanning the road surface, the intersections ahead of me, the traffic patterns around me. I assess the potential traffic threats, analyze the road surface, look at where I need to go. I predict traffic activity based on some internal algorithm that's beyond my own comprehension, but which is based on years of observation of neighborhoods, car types, driver demographics and many other inputs, an algorithm which serves me well 90% of the time. I take those many different inputs and turn them into one output - the best route to take. The best space to cut through traffic. The most likely lane to accelerate more quickly from the light. The spaces that are safe to be in and the spaces that are not. I analyze every sight, sound, and feeling. I can feel the lateral Gs when I turn and I know exactly where my tires will start to protest. I know how the woman ahead of me in the Camry is going to behave and that I have plenty of space to get into the exit lane in front of her without being rude. I know that I can take the second turn on my exit ramp at 58 mph without squeal if I take the proper line. I know that I'll have better luck merging with street traffic if I take the next turn in third gear instead of second, which again requires the proper line in order not to squeal. I know how small the space is that I can fit through if I need to change lanes to get around someone slow. I know that I can follow the SUV in front of me pretty closely because it will take him significantly more distance to stop than my lightweight car in the event we need to stop quickly. (I know, unless he hits something. It's accounted for.)
All of this is done within my own definition of safety, which for me is comfortable and for most other people is not. But I know what my car is capable of, I know what my driving skills are capable of, and I never push beyond my abilities. I never put myself in a position where I won't be able to recover if someone else does something stupid. If I'm in the right lane going through an intersection and to my left is a line of people turning left, I go very slowly because I know that the people coming towards me who want to turn left across my lane of traffic probably won't see my little ass. I don't cut in front of other cars and jam on the brakes because bigger cars won't be able to stop as quickly as I will (plus it's rude). This is why I haven't been in an accident of my own fault since 1995 and haven't been in an accident at all since 1997.
(Yes, I will knock on wood if it will make you feel better.)
All of this combines to make driving, for me, an extremely intense activity. One must be alert at every second to push city driving to the limits like this.
Of course, there are times when this isn't an option. When other people are in the car. Especially when I am taking Xandria to school or home from school. Any time any bit of my concentration has to be diverted away from driving, I consciously back off the level at which I drive proportionately to account for it. With a kid in the car, that's an automatic reason to back away from the experience. Driving the way I do is only a risk to my own safety, and a minor one, in my opinion. But the instant I have a passenger, there is someone else who is putting their safety in my hands, and I respect that.
And yes, I understand everyone can't or wouldn't like to deal with this level of driving. I understand I'm towards one end of the spectrum on this. But, to quote a friend, "I make time when I drive." It's efficient, which appeals to my logical side, and it's fun, which appeals to my.. uh, fun side.
Yes, 70 mph on an interstate for hours on end is going to be reasonably boring regardless of what you're driving, and it's very nice to have a comfortable ride that you don't have to think much about in that situation. But that's the exception for me, not the rule. 95% of my driving is city driving. I'd rather drive an uncomfortable, stiff suspension manual transmission on a road trip than to drive a cushy automatic for my daily driver. I wanted a car that would be ideal for autocrossing because I figured autocrossing was the type of racing that would most closely resemble driving in traffic, and a good autocrosser will be a car that will handle my style of city driving very well.
I've talked a lot about this in terms of logic, of thought, and haven't really gotten much into the feeling of it. Don't think that's not also a part of it. That's the biggest and best part of it.
Time go to sauter the wires to my reverse lights back onto the switch.