No YOU Shut Up And Drive

Ticket to sanity: Me, alone, in my car, on my favorite road

By Janis Hirsch

For me, there is nothing about a vacation that’s a vacation. Don’t get me wrong — if you’re offering, I can be packed and at the Alitalia terminal in under an hour. But you know as well as I do how much stress goes into planning a vacation. You worry about bed bugs and gross bedspread residue and buying a bathing suit that won’t show too much side-bosom or back fat or thigh overhang then there’s the issue of sitting on the tarmac for six hours seat-belted next to the inspiration for “Contagion.”

And those staycations you hear so much about on the local news? Yes, fabulous, you don’t have to pack or tip the skycap, but even if you don’t do any work-work, you still end up taking the dog to the groomer and washing dishes.

I’m not even a fan of the “Me Day,” mostly because when I hear women use that phrase I want to punch them in the face but also because the one time I declared a “Me Day,” my son broke his arm and I wasn’t there to take him to the doctor. Never mind that his accident occurred while he was playing the “how late can I stick my arm into the electric door at the grocery store and still make it stop?” game.

So what do I do when I need to clear my head and forget real life? If I were a movie star in the early 1960s, I’d check into a private hospital and go into a medically induced coma for a week.

Plan B is, I get into my car and drive. But not just around town because if you’re on familiar streets you’ll pass a Target and remember you need new t-shirts or you’ll pass a pharmacy and remember you’ve sat on your last pair of reading glasses or… well, I was going to say drive by a friend’s house and stop in. But I have never, and will never, and do not want anyone else to ever drop in anywhere uninvited at any time. Especially at my house.

I have two doctors in Santa Barbara, California, which is about 90 miles from home. There are plenty of doctors who do what these docs do here in LA and I often go to them. But every couple of months, I see my SB team as much for their expert care as for the drive up the coast.

I can do the round trip in a morning and feel like I’ve been away for a week. I don’t answer my phone unless it’s family and if it’s family asking me to do them a favor, or for my opinion regarding when they should next get a haircut, I have no trouble in saying, “I’m about to lose you” and then I do .

Santa Barbara’s my spot; you get your own. Start by picking a town at least an hour away. Then, nerd-up and check traffic patterns so you know the best time to drive. As much fun as being in bumper-to-bumper traffic sounds, it’s worth waking up a little early to avoid it. And quit your groaning about setting your alarm extra early. I find that getting up early makes me feel smug and superior, and what’s not to like about that?

To drive 90 minutes, I normally pack the Prius with a cooler filled with at least 4 quarts of water, 3 plums, a bunch of grapes, a bag of almonds and a Balance Bar Gold (come on, they can’t be better for you than candy bars, right? But while I throw my Three Musketeers wrappers in unmarked trashcans, I leave my Balance Bar wrapper out on the seat for all the world to see).

Then there’s the question of music. Yes, sometimes I’ll listen to an audio book, although I tend to space out while listening so I’m “Oh yes, seven year-old Tina Fey, you are a funny duck” and then I come to and she’s already saying “Bitch is the new black” on SNL 25 years later.

Stick with music. I find that Adele is a fine driving companion as are Amy Winehouse, Bon Jovi and Sir Mix-A-Lot, especially his classic “Baby Got Back” which includes the Algonquin Round Table-worthy lyric “I like big butts and I cannot lie.”

This is the beauty of driving alone. No one will judge you for singing songs you have no right to sing or even know about. And so what if your songs do not in any way belong together? This is not a playlist for a Top 40 station. This is YOUR car. Which is why you can throw old, pre-stringy arms Madonna into your jam (did I use that word right? My guess is “absolutely not” but you know what I mean) or Stevie Nicks or Chrissie Hynde or Aretha or Miss Ross or Jennifer “I’m Too Skinny for Effie Now” Hudson.

Don’t even get me started on Christmas music. That’s where I really shine. (Yes, as Irving Berlin knew, there’s no Jew like a Christmas Jew.) You haven’t lived till you’ve heard me belt “Adeste Fidelis” entirely in Latin. And my “Hallelujah Chorus”? If only Handel were still alive, that’s all I can say.

Because car singing is all about volume and heart. You want a nuanced performance? Go see Andrea Marcovicci in some tiny club. I’ll wait here.

The greatest part about the drive is not that it takes me past the Camarillo Premium Outlets Mall, because unlike most Vaginamericans, I really need to be in the mood to shop. Maybe this has to do with being a fat child with a skinny sister sharing the same dressing room when we were kids. She was always swimming in her clothes while I was always working up a sweat trying to wedge myself into a Chubette 16 kilt. AND YES, I KNOW KILTS WRAP AROUND WHICH MEANS THEY SHOULDN’T BE TIGHT BUT THIS ONE WAS, OKAY?

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