I used to subscribe to something of a modern Malthusian theory that would someday see fierce global competition over basic resources. I began to give up that thinking before I was through with college, but the introvert in me has nonetheless regularly dreamed of a world with, shall we say, several fewer billion humans on Earth.
Call me crazy, but just imagine it for a moment: driving to your favorite beach on the weekend and getting a convenient parking spot. Looking to stop in at the delicious new eatery in the happening part of town? No need to worry, the line won’t be around the block, and there’s no half-hour wait to get a table. Traffic and congestion? A thing of the past. These vast arterial freeways were built to accommodate many more people than currently use them. Hitting the In-‘n’-Out drive-through at any hour and pulling straight up to place to your order? Okay, that last one is still a pipe dream.
But over the past month or so, much of this dream has become a reality. No, you can’t go to the beach in my city, and many restaurants are simply closed, but roads, parking lots, freeways, and other once-busy thoroughfares are now mostly devoid of human activity.
I’d be lying if I said didn’t love it.
Don’t get me wrong; my family owns a small business that employs several hard-working people, and I studied economics in college. I know that every moment longer this so-called great pause continues, the metrics that define our standard of living suffer.
But while it’s happening, all I can do is play my role and stay away from people (something I don’t mind one bit, although we still have to devise ways to stay sane). I am a regular weekend golfer, and other than a few instances over the past few years that were either the result of injury or weather, I haven’t realized just how much getting away from the desk and computers and into the sunshine has meant to me. I miss the lush grass beneath my feet, whether we’re talking the fairway, the putting surface, or the rough.
Every golf course I know of in my local area—and there are several dozen—is closed. It started with the city-owned courses like Torrey Pines and Balboa, but within a week it spread to all the others. Raised cups and permanent flagsticks be damned. I personally don’t see much problem in walking eighteen with a partner and keeping distance, but I am not here to protest the decisions of the echelons above reality.
I’ve also always been an early-morning weekend driver, even when I end up sleeping in. There’s something about a cold start on a chilly morning, and getting the oil, brakes, and tires hot while there’s still dew on the hood—no, I don’t leave my nice cars outside, but go with the visual. Lately, with golf off the weekend agenda, I’ve needed an excuse to get out of the house more than ever. I am lucky enough to say I’ve been working (rather productively) from home going on three years now, so in my world, very little has changed since much of the country was told to stay home and shelter in place, whatever that means. My day-to-day routine is virtually unchanged.
One thing I do notice, however, is the lack of congestion on the I-5 freeway, which I’ve made a habit of glancing at when I look out the back windows. I’ve never seen it this empty during rush hour, and the open pavement has been calling my name.
Whenever I open the Waze app, there’s a notification saying that I should only drive if it’s essential. Not a problem; between Target and Costco, there are dozens of retail locations all across San Diego County, and so what if I happen to take the long way to arrive at one right as it opens on a Saturday or Sunday morning? And what better car to do it all in than a BMW? It’s been the perfect blend of sport and utility from when the 1602 and 2002 were on sale to now.
It’s the same feeling I’ve often experienced when a long, expansive road suddenly opens up before me. I am almost always compelled to nail the accelerator until good sense and a fear of having my car impounded and going to jail prevail.
Right now I can almost guarantee that many of my favorite roads are devoid of people as I write this. It’s excellent. Being able to rev-match downshifts before every corner and power out to my heart’s desire is serene. There’s no Prius to spoil the fun, and scarcely a left-lane road-regulator to be found. It’s always been a problem for me, but keeping my foot out of it is extra hard when there’s simply no one in sight.
And, like golf, I don’t see any particular problem with it. I gas up near where I live with gloves, although I haven’t been wiping down the card—won’t that remove my exquisite signature from the back? I drive solo (always have), and when I’m around other cars, I debate whether to put the climate control on recirc or not; do I want to re-breathe my own potentially infected atmosphere, or potentially catch a whiff from another car? Who knows?!
Speaking of climate control, as someone with both light asthma and heavy allergies to all things environmental and seasonal, I’ve always carefully chosen the cabin-air filter for my cars. Two of the three in my fleet have them, and I’ve always erred toward charcoal—not only for its odor-removing effect, but also because we trust similar media to filter water. Lately, however, I’ve noticed a few new options that are available for my 1 Series. I want to give one of these a try (especially now,) but fear that I might have the same experience I encountered with the Bosch HEPA filter, which severely restricted airflow in a previous vehicle. $50 is also a lot for a cabin-air filter, but I don’t mind splurging on these things—if they work.
Numerous digressions aside, as I’ve been writing this column, I haven’t stopped picturing some of the wide-open roads upon which I’ve been heat-cycling my Michelin Pilot Super Sports lately . I usually missed a weekend drive here or there, whether it was due to a conflicting tee time, weather, or a simple unwillingness to go (there’s always tomorrow or next weekend, right?). But lately I haven’t missed a chance for an early-morning cold start and a full exercising of the rev band. The freshly-purchased pack of toilet paper in the trunk isn’t always the same shape when I return home, but my sanity and ability to sit in front of my workstation and bang on the keyboard for half-days on end are most certainly benefiting from what I consider essential maintenance.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy Alex Tock.]