There was a time when I couldn’t imagine riding in silence in my car. My daily routine typically involves a nine mile round trip to a parking lot near the ferry terminal and most days I would have KUOW, the local NPR station, or KEXP, the greatest music station in the United States, as background for both ends of my drive. During baseball season I would catch parts of Mariners games if they were playing, because I still love picturing the game as described by radio announcers more than I like watching on television.
Back in February, in the wee hours leading up to the Verizon iPhone launch, someone smashed the driver’s side window of my Suzuki Grand Vitara. They neatly removed the AIWA car stereo I paid $99 for in 2003 and a Tom Bihn Aeronaut bag that’s been all over the world. I point out the neatness of the job, because aside from the broken glass, the thief was careful not to damage my dash at all and even took the time to remove the USB adapter from the 12-volt power outlet and place it in a tray in the console. The stero wasn’t particularly special and can’t have had any real resale value – I originally got it because it was the most affordable car stereo I could find with a jack for my MP3 player. A broken MacBook in the back would have garnered more money from parts, as would the Manfrotto monopod that had sat under the bag, but the thief left those items behind.
The next day I paid to replace my window and have driven without a car stereo ever since. The Suzuki is probably not going to last much longer and I didn’t see the point in buying a stereo when I didn’t really plan to keep the car. Most days I don’t even think about the missing stereo. I’m usually lost in thought on my way to and from the ferry. It didn’t occur to me until this morning how much I’ve come to value the quiet. I’m someone who solves problems by thinking them out while doing something else. Often I take a walk when I need to think. It didn’t hit me that my morning drive was also serving this same purpose, until I realized I’d resolved four lingering issues between my house and the last stop sign before I turn toward the ferry.
This largely unconscious processing is happening to me every day as I drive to catch the boat. When I open my laptop for my first focused effort of the morning, I’ve been quietly surprised by how much I seem to accomplish in the thirty four minutes of time between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. What I hadn’t realized, until this morning, is that much of my success in focusing on small tasks in that brief strecth is due to the quiet, distraction-free drive before I get there.
In a world where radio stations custom tailor morning programming to the drive from home to work, it’s hard to remember to take time for yourself. When I was doing audio podcasting on a regular basis, I used to love hearing from people who said they listened on their morning drive. Now I’m left wondering if maybe all that early morning ear candy isn’t just noise drowning out important thoughts and big ideas.
What would you hear if you turned the volume down?