Oh, now that’s weird,” I said to my passenger. “I smell bug spray.” I had no bug spray on board, so I knew it wasn’t coming from inside the car.
We were close to Chilliwack, B.C., with the front windows down a few inches. It was hot out, but on a challenge to maximize fuel efficiency, air conditioning was verboten. I’d adjusted to it fairly quickly; growing up, we never had air conditioning. My father believed it was a ridiculous frill that reduced gas mileage. We used to complain, but he was right. Every single time I turn it on in my car, I think of him. And feel guilty.
If you’re stuck in urban traffic with the air so heavy with fumes you can taste it, air conditioning is a relief. Same thing if you’re on your way to an important meeting or event, and the humidity threatens to melt your makeup or unfreshen your fresh suit.
That said, I still think we are reducing our driving experiences far too often by being told we can make them better. I don’t want to just pass by those huge wheels of wheat; I want to smell them. I like hearing kids playing. I like determining that no, that burning smell isn’t coming from my car. Cut grass, manure, hot tar. Subconscious human senses that tell me I’m nearing the coast, or that it’s going to rain, or that it just has. We take these once-vital survival signals for granted, and then we dull them, snuff them out. If you drive a convertible, you already know immersing yourself in the landscape beats simply passing through it.
“You smell bug spray?” asked my passenger. “I don’t smell it.” I sniffed the air again, now several kilometres from where I’d first noticed it.
“Yup. It’s Off or something. Or, wait. No. Yes. It’s bug spray. Or gin. I couldn’t be smelling gin, could I?” By now, even I was shaking my head. There was no gin in the car, either. I looked at her, laughing, asked her for help. Now it was just going to bother me, trying to determine if my nose was that untrustworthy, especially in front of someone else.
I’d been adjusting in other ways already to the open air world of this drive. My left arm is more tanned than my right, no matter how much sunscreen I put on it. To preserve aerodynamics, the windows were only down a little, but it was enough to allow us to feast on the Trans Canada Highway with more than just our eyes. We’d left one rainy, salty coast for another.
Talking on a cell phone through Bluetooth is pointless unless you close the windows; consequently, calls are kept very short. This is a good thing. I don’t want to focus on the phone. I want to watch the world right here, not be reminded of the one back there. “I’m going to have to go now” might be the sweetest phrase in the English language, other than No Signal.
It wasn’t long ago that the best part of many drives was the fact that you would be out of contact for an hour, a day, a week. A car was a cocoon of silence if you craved it, or music or talk or song. An emergency was someone falling down a well, not someone unable to find their blue shorts.
I was thinking of this loss we’ve created, of being too connected while simultaneously being too removed. I wondered when the moment we are in became less important than the one we are not. Like a TV remote control for your life, it’s all about what is on somewhere else.
“Perhaps it’s a plant,” said my passenger, indicating the heavily forested area we were travelling through.
Junipers. We were in the midst of towering Rocky Mountain Junipers. Gin is made from juniper berries. My nose wasn’t crazy after all.