It occurred to me the other day, as I sat at a red light, what a wonderful place an automobile is to cry.
It is enclosed, almost sound proof, and usually in motion, so if anyone you know sees you they can't really tell if you were breaking down in traffic. When you're driving, you're staring straight ahead, right into the abyss. It would be impossible to calculate the number of movie scenes in which a main character buckles into the driver's seat and then collapses into a torrent of lament. You can't question Hollywood. Put simply: the automobile provides the ideal environment for ophthalmic precipitation.
It's not just the car's features that make is a natural fit for despondency. It's the reasons we use cars that lead us there. Think about it. Almost every time you leave some uncomfortable, painful event, some horrible tragedy – a funeral, the emergency ward, a Maple Leafs game – you get into a car. Sure, you probably could use the walk, but after life has just eviscerated you, who wants to pull a Requiem for a Dream-style stroll down Main Street? It's much easier to get in your car and let the brutalizing nature of our existence do its thing.
Of course, men and women use the car-cry scenario differently. We all know it's okay for men to cry. We just become incredibly uncomfortable when they do it in public. If pushed, most men would admit to having some of their biggest bouts of lachrymosity behind the wheel.
Basically, men cry in the car because they didn't finish crying in the shower.
There are two approaches. The most popular would be denial. You get in the car thinking, "I'm fine." You turn on the ignition. You begin driving. You feel all right. You turn on the radio. That's your first mistake. Whatever you're trying to suppress can latch on to any melody. Freakshow on the Dance Floor by the Bar-Kays comes on the radio. It's too much. Cue the waterfall.
It's actually not hard to spot a guy having a car-cry. He's wearing sunglasses at night (à la Corey Hart) and he's probably wearing a baseball cap. I'm not sure why the baseball cap is the hat of choice for the depressed driver. I think it plays back into the denial. It's like saying, "Hey, I'm okay; I could be going out to play softball. I'm wearing a baseball cap. Could I do that if everything wasn't all right?"
Then there's the full-on in-your-face automotive weeper. This is the driver you see when you're stuck in traffic. You look over to your right and spy a guy who's crying so hard it looks like he smeared his face with Vaseline and blew melted butter out of his nose. You know that the car stereo is blaring something bittersweet and bleak – like the Over the Hedge soundtrack by Ben Folds (Note to Ben: it was a kids' movie). The guy's cracking but you know that somewhere in the back recesses of his mind he's trying to figure out how he's going to hide all this from the folks at his 9:45 a.m. meeting.
Personally, I've always wanted to try crying in a convertible. I've done the research and I think it might be the optimum ride. If you're wearing sunglasses and driving at a high enough speed the wind would actually dry your tears as they rolled down your face, thereby destroying the evidence.
Women cry in cars as well but I think that these are not singular events but rather part of the overall catharsis. The car is one of the places women cry but it is not "the place" women cry. I don't think women get into cars and cry. I think that women begin crying and then get into their cars. From there it can go anywhere. A woman can cry throughout her commute. Hit the office and cry in the washroom and then take time out for a cry over coffee.
Of course, there is one other reason that the car-cry is so popular. A car doesn't judge. A car doesn't tell. A car carries you around until you're done, acting as rolling climate-controlled hiding place. As you wallow it moves you forward and when you're finished, and ready to once again beat on against the current, it opens its doors and sets you free.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy