The Slow and the Furious
I have to admit that when I was asked to write an article about Bozeman car culture, I was struck by the seeming oxymoron in the phrase. To me, culture is about shared experience, common values, and inhabiting a place in the world together. Cars seem, by definition, to be the opposite of that. They are machines that separate us from our immediate environment and allow us to move through it more quickly with increased isolation. We notice less of life in cars. Most of us are hardly conscious of driving at all. Lost in a daydream or our phone, we get from point A to point B without really existing at all. I simultaneously resent driving and am incredibly grateful I’m able to, and so I thought rather than feigning competence about a subject I know nothing of, I would prove my ignorance through reliance on stereotypes and biased observations I find satisfying when stuck on 19th street at 5 p.m.
It’s well known that Bozeman is the Subaru capital of the free world, and I happen to drive an Outback. It doesn’t have bumper stickers, but I dream of them often. I do want to share my opinion and I feel that if I can find the right sticker to express it for me, I’ll be offering a very special and unique service to my fellow commuters. I’ve gathered anecdotal evidence that people have been driven to existential rebirth and complete political turnaround simply by tailgating a Forester with an Obama sticker. What else might be possible?
One thing I like about owning a Subaru is being able to tell people that it’s all-wheel drive, man (which sometimes gets expressed as AWD if I’m around car folk). In theory, that means “super-extreme and backcountry-capable, man.” In practice however, it means less fun taking corners in the winter and compromised gas mileage on road trips. It’s actually my second favorite thing to talk about at parties, with my moderate consideration of a future-vegan lifestyle being the first.
Currently, I own zero black labs, but I have pictures up on my dashboard of all the black labs I could own and I giggle at them when we’re driving because they always like to stick their heads out the window and pant to the beat of the Trampled by Turtles album I play on loop through my kit speakers. It’s super hilarious. And when we get to the extreme pristine meadow that we’re heading toward (the compass in a Subaru actually points toward an iconic meadow at all times), even before I snap a photo for my instagram or string up the slack line, I take my bouldering pad off the roof, remove my shirt, and find my way home, aka into downward-facing dog.
One thing that does trouble me about being a Subaru owner, however, is that when I’m bumper to bumper with a lifted pickup at a stop light in a 25 mph zone, I know for sure that I’m not going to beat him off the line. In fact, I’ve noticed that no other vehicle or driver is so adept at going from 0 to 25 and swerving into my lane as the junior monster truck. And while these incidents do hurt my pride a bit, I like to imagine each driver behind those tinted windows is actually the Undertaker himself and that in fact, the dark exhaust billowing from the dual chimneys are the cremated remains of the poor drivers who actually tried to keep up. I wouldn’t consider treading on you, sir.
And I know what you’re thinking about jacked up trucks and the whole compensation thing. I don’t believe those rumors. As the man who inspired the MAGA sticker on so many oversized tailgates said when asked about the size of his hands, “believe me, there is no problem.” Of course, with a leader of MAGA caliber at the helm, I take those words to be both gospel and scientific fact. It’s courageous men like him that protect our inalienable right to drive vehicles so attention-grabbing and inefficient and loud that we are stunned into the reluctant admission that only liberal propaganda could concoct a fantasy as far-fetched as climate change.
And speaking of change, Bozeman car culture has been undergoing a radical transformation as we learn to adapt to the strange creature known as the roundabout. Reams of sociological data need to be gathered in these exotic locations about the impact of high-pressure situations upon decision-making. I’ve noticed that busy times at roundabouts transmit a psychic tension equivalent to an astronaut attaining escape velocity from the earth’s gravitational clutches. My internal dialogue goes something like this: “There’s cars on all sides and more lining up with every passing moment. If I don’t go, they will go. And if they go, I won’t be able to. There are no rules in this place. Wait...wait. Except that strange red triangle. I remember something about this triangle from drivers ed, something about accelerating while texting. This is where heroes are made. This is where I make my stand. This is where I finally prove my mom wrong. I can do this.” I intuit my fellow road-bound astronauts feel the same because I often see them accelerating in front of other drivers with a one-handed death grip on the wheel and an Apollo 13 grimace, looking at their phone to update mission control with a snapchat.
I’m most acquainted with the College St. roundabout which usually leads me to my next favorite phenomenon of Bozeman traffic, “the boulevard of overly-empowered pedestrians,” aka 11th Street. Maybe it’s the need for dangerous and initiatory experiences, or the conviction that pedestrian right-of-way laws also provide energetic force fields which protect against vehicle impact that lead students to stride into traffic without looking, regardless of how near a car may be. Perhaps this is the epitome of what MAGAman means when he says snowflake. What if these brave beings are actually mutant snowflakes who know that if they splatter against a windshield, they will simply melt on contact and slide off with no lasting damage? Or what if it’s an extremist right-wing bid at gerrymanding; an attempt to get the liberal youth absorbed into their phones as they approach busy streets? Regardless of the cause, I do feel that Russia has a hand in it.
Somehow, as it comes around to those dirty Russian bots trying to assassinate our youth, we’re back in the realm of cars and culture. Having written all that and feeling slightly lighter in my soul, I can acknowledge that culture and cars are inseparable in the modern world. If nothing else, the quickly changing dynamics of Bozeman’s streets give us something to talk about as we collectively shoulder the increased travel time of our growing city. And for everything I wrote above, the vast majority of drivers in Bozeman travel with consideration and good sense. I’ll leave it there for now and hope that someday we meet in a tangled detour on a Friday afternoon. And maybe, if we’re delayed long enough, we can show each other our bumper stickers.