Thursday, September 14, 2017

Driving to Chorus

I hate driving. Except when I love it.

I used to have a sailboat and a convertible. When Eleanor was born, I traded them in for a Prius. Nine years ago, I supersized to a Kia minivan. At the time, we had three kids in clunky car seats, and I needed all the room I could get. During the minivan era my family has trekked to Denver, Oregon, Yellowstone, Whistler, and more.

When you drive only one car for this many years and miles, it becomes an extension of your body. Recently a friend riding with me to Vancouver was horrified at what he perceived to be my unsafe following distance behind other vehicles. (His appalled gasps made him sound just like my mother. Or my sister-in-law's famous imitation of my mother.) In contrast, whenever I drive one of my parents' matching Honda Accords I feel like I'm in a tiny go-cart, suspended a couple of inches above the ground. I explained to my friend he just needed to spend more time behind the windshield of a minivan to give him the correct perspective. To prove my point I effortlessly parallel parked in a typically microscopic Canadian parking space. 

The minivan is old and dented now, with unreliable doors and an unquenchable thirst for gasoline and motor oil. The windshield is cracked, the electrical system is shot, and the electronics are incompatible with current technology. The kids used to spend hours watching DVDs play on a tiny screen that flipped down from the car ceiling. I listened to a whole generation of movies and TV – Wreck It Ralph, Rio, every damn episode of Full House – that I could probably recite from memory even though I’ve never actually seen any of them myself.

Nowadays on long trips the kids just listen through wireless earphones to their individual Apple devices. Resistance is futile.

After our summer break, weekly Vancouver Men’s Chorus rehearsals began last Wednesday. I immediately remembered how much I love driving to chorus. When I first moved to Bellingham a couple of years ago, I decided to sing one last holiday concert with Seattle Men’s Chorus. The commute south on I-5 that fall was miserable. In contrast, my drive from Bellingham to Vancouver is gorgeous. There’s no traffic into the city on Wednesday evenings, and no line at the border. It only takes an hour and fifteen minutes total, and even less time returning home late at night. (Particularly if you stay out extra late with the boys for show tunes night at the nearby piano bar.) Driving to chorus gives me the perfect chance for the brainstorming alone time I need to write or think.

Once across the border, my car radio is tuned to the CBC’s French-language station. On my way to rehearsal they play jazz and standards; on the way home I usually hear classical music. For much of the drive, you enjoy a spectacular view of the B.C. Coast Range and the San Juan and Gulf Islands. All my life I’ve driven past the turn-off to Point Roberts (an anomalous five-square-mile parcel of the United States you can only access through Canada), and wondered when someone will finally invite me to visit their beach cottage/tax shelter. As someone who has spent most of his life in exile, my drive north every Wednesday is as instinctive and as satisfying as a salmon’s swim upstream.

Spending time with 100 gay men, even preternaturally nice Canadian ones, is still overwhelming. My social anxiety invariably revs up. Before my first performance with the 200-voice Seattle Men’s Chorus seventeen years ago, I spent twenty minutes hiding in a stairwell at the Everett Civic Auditorium, curled in a fetal position and trying to breathe. For the entire time I’ve sung with Vancouver Men’s Chorus, PTSD has further amplified my social anxiety, particularly around gay men.

You’ve heard how vampires can’t come into your house until after someone first invites them in? That’s what I’m like in social situations with the gays. I can’t talk to someone if he hasn’t already spoken to me first, usually several times. Fortunately, after a couple years in VMC I’ve finally had a chance to meet many of my fellow chorines, even mysterious Baritones who sit far across the room from God’s chosen Second Tenors. No doubt many folks from VMC still think of me as the strangely quiet guy from the States who stands alone in the back holding up the wall. Or they’ve seen me talk to the one or two extroverted guys I know, and leapt to the conclusion that I’m unapproachable, or that my taste runs the gamut from A to B – Light Roast to Dark Roast. (In fact, I also like triple Americanos, hard cider, pale ales, robust red wines, Diet Mountain Dew, and fruit smoothies.)

To cope with social anxiety, I wear out numerous fuzzy things or super fuzzy things during chorus rehearsals.  Even more than when I brave Seattle’s miserable traffic, or when I’m frustrated with legal problems or economic uncertainty. Nevertheless, driving to chorus and to Vancouver brings me a measure of peace and fulfillment I cannot find anywhere else.


  1. When you finally disconnect your emotions from driving, maybe then it will be safe and you'll perceive it that way, too.

  2. I do everything with my emotions now. I'm compensating for decades of repression when I did everything with my brain. It's okay, I have a note from my doctor giving me permission. As long as I stop joking about suing people for malpractice.