Driving is stressful.
Scratch that: Driving here is stressful.
Dealing with multi-kilometer traffic jams, unruly drivers, and dodging potholes, jaywalkers, and stray animals are just some of the realities of driving in Metro Manila - in the Philippines, more like. Yes, the driveability of our beloved country's streets are far from ideal if it still isn't so obvious.
As an individual who has to drive through the morning and evening rush hour 5 times a week like most people, I've found that maximum tolerance is the answer. You want to cut me off? Fine. Run the red light when my side goes green? Go ahead. Public utility vehicles dropping off passengers in the middle of the street? Take your time. Maximum tolerance is not the same as tolerating unlawfulness, but does getting riled up, frustrated, and angry help me? In some ways, they do, although I know it shouldn't. I'd rather you go about your merry way than make myself waste time ranting and maybe even flipping the proverbial bird. Maybe that's how I deal with keeping my sanity and ensuring my safety. But I digress.
Then it dawned on me one night while I was driving home: Do I always have to have a destination set to drive? Why can't I just go around the metro, or maybe the neighboring province, just because I want to? No ETAs, no one to meet, no last calls to catch, no purpose. Nothing.
Can I just drive for the sake of enjoying driving and -more importantly- can it be a therapeutic exercise?
So it's a plan. The immediate weekend following that night, I was ready to put my hypothesis to test. It was around 8:00 PM that Saturday when I started with my "experiment", with only my wallet, my playlist, a bottle of my favorite soda, and an empty bladder. I kept reminding myself to keep an open mind, that this is not a waste of precious time and fuel, and to just try and enjoy this drive as I'm not subject to follow any timeframe anyway.
For the first few cities I 'autopiloted' through, it was kind of weird just breezing through the familiar spots, not parking or stopping to run errands or to buy anything. "A different kind of window shopping", I thought. By the fourth or fifth city, I somehow managed to shake off the strange feeling that came with wandering aimlessly, and I was already enjoying the playlist full of '90s hits that I prepared.
For the first time in weeks, it was just me and my (calm) thoughts. And the occasional off-key singing. *sips soda* Good ideas came flooding in for my projects in the upcoming weeks, but from time to time I got distracted by restaurants that piqued my curiosity when I was on the 'new' unfamiliar side of town. Man, Metro Manila was so much bigger than I thought.
The traffic never bothered me either, even after traversing through the wildly populated EDSA, and the truck parking lot that's C-5. I lost track of how many cities or municipalities I passed by, but who's counting? It was just when I realized that I was already close to home, that I decided to pack it in, rest, and digest the whole thing.
Here's what I learned after adding 70 kilometers on the odometer just within the city.
1) Driving around keeps your driving muscle memory sharp.
This covers almost everything starting from a simple lane change in traffic, to the more complex skills such as fitting yourself through an alley that's only a hair over the width of your car. Since you will be spending a lot of time with your car, you will be able to judge your car's dimensions better. And it's not only the physical aspect: throttle input, braking, and steering are some things you also have to be good at and be confident with. Overtaking is an example of a skill that needs some practice and cannot be learned only by reading. More driving = more experience.
A point I'd also like to bring up is that knowing how to wrestle your car during *knock on wood* emergency situations becomes more predictable, second nature if you will. Nobody is ever totally prepared for an emergency, there are too many variables to consider for you to perfectly predict how it might transpire. It's always being a step ahead if you're knowledgeable. The coordination and chemistry between a man and his machine are so much more important than most people think.
Oh, before I forget, this is also a chance for you to practice road discipline. Obeying the law has always been a problem for most Filipino motorists. Blocked yellow boxes on intersections, counter-flowing over to the opposite lane just to catch the green light, not yielding to pedestrians, cutting everyone off in line to make a turn, etcetera etcetera, but if we try to make a small difference starting with ourselves, we might be able to inspire more fellow drivers to make this city a little more motorist-friendly.
2) You get to know your 'hood better.
We are in a land where potholes are aplenty, and they're not exactly on good terms with your car's underpinnings. Find out which lanes to stay on, which ones to avoid. Road constructions are another thing, it's inevitable that they will bottleneck traffic. But if you know how to go around it, you might be able to save precious minutes during your commute. You could have discovered a new route or a shortcut during your 'loitering' that will make your daily drive better in terms of time spent on the road.
On top of that, fuel stations spread across the metro have different pricing standards. There will surely be one that you will come across that offers a less painful top-up. Get familiarized with parking lots and buildings too; who knows, they might come in handy someday.
Not that big of a deal, but there are establishments that will catch your attention. Maybe a restaurant that looks like it serves good food, a quaint and cozy coffee shop, a bookshop that could smell of lignin all around, it all depends on your interest. As weird as it may sound, you might get a feel of being a local "local" tourist with all these discoveries.
3) Better handling and solving of problems is another thing that this activity might teach you.
A common issue in my circle of friends when they tried this out was getting lost. With the advent of technology, it's not that much of a problem anymore. Traffic navigation apps are readily available and accessible to help you sort your way. But if you're the adventurous type, you can just go with the flow; follow wherever the road takes you. Just be wary of one-way streets or possible violations, getting apprehended is never part of the fun.
Also, do not get lost on purpose. Take the chance only if the opportunity presents itself. You might bite off more than you can chew.
Even if you have a route planned out every time, there won't be two drive-arounds that will exactly be alike. Different drivers you're sharing the road with, weather conditions, unannounced roadblocks, it's basically a combination of circumstances out of our control. You might also find after a couple of sessions that you've already developed longer patience when driving, and it will apply even to your daily commute.
4) It's an opportunity to spend time with yourself.
Cocoon yourself from the social pressure of not being alone. It is okay, it always has been. The Japanese always said that there are three faces for every person: One you show to the world, another is what you show to your family and close friends, and third, being the one you never show anyone. During this time, be any face you're comfortable with. Just be yourself. Talk to yourself about anything. Getting to know yourself is vital, it greatly affects your life choices, even the company you would want to keep. You can also shut down your mind (not totally), and just enjoy the moment.
5) Driving lets you take control.
Go anywhere you like, spend as much time driving around as you see fit, listen to music you like, go at your own pace, eat wherever you want, take a break if needed, basically you're your own man (or woman). For that moment, it's all about you. You owe this time off to yourself. You got this.
Before sleeping that night, I reassessed my little "experiment". Surely the earlier part of that week was spent fuming, chasing after deadlines, blowing my top off over the smallest things, but the drive-around I did made up for it. It works as a cure-all, for me at least. I hope it works for you too if you haven't found what works for you yet. We all need something to get the edge out of our system from time to time - mental health issues are more common nowadays and they should not go unattended. For us to give a hundred percent in our daily grind, we have to be at our hundred percent too. Take care of yourselves, people! Not just physically, but also emotionally, and more importantly, mentally.
Nerding out, studies have shown that driving around alone comfortably activates your quartet of happiness, namely oxytocin (aids in mood and emotion regulation), serotonin (reduces anxiety and depression levels), dopamine (one that keeps you motivated and driven), and endorphins (basically a happy hormone).
Fast forward a few years, I still do it. Thrice a month, mostly on Fridays. In fact, I just came back from one before starting on this. To me something is refreshing about the start-of-the-weekend vibe that calms me down; the street lights seem to shine brighter, people start to loosen up, cities start to give off a weird (but good) combination of a relaxed and energetic vibe. And, as a bonus, this LC500 is one hell of a vehicle to drive!
But it doesn't really matter which vehicle you want to drive around in, I've done this with my personal sedan, the family AUV, a dear friend's truck, and a couple of other vehicles from vastly different segments. The result is the only thing that matters here: Your well-being.
Go ahead. Drive. Enjoy.