Going Nowhere Fast


This weekend’s City section of the New York Times featured a
mind-blowing essay by children’s-book writer Sarah Shey about her habit
of taking her one-year-old son out for drives in the city — drives
with no destination or purpose in mind, in which she crossed and
recrossed the Brooklyn Bridge endless times.

Shey, who is
originally from Iowa, writes that she missed "the pristine geometry of
vacant blacktops, where a car can travel at
least mile a minute, stair-stepping from field to unclothed field and
not meet a patrol car." So she decided to try to recreate her family’s
bygone post-supper aimless-driving ritual here in the big city. You
really have to read the whole thing to believe it, but here are some highlights:

hour didn’t work for us in Brooklyn. We had both traffic patterns and
my son’s schedule to consider. So early Saturday morning it was. My
son and I got to escape our cavelike apartment. My husband got to
lounge in bed for a few extra hours. And the best part of the deal: I got to concentrate on the road – not, for a change, on my family.

Our nondestination of choice was the Brooklyn Bridge. Back and forth we’d drive – sometimes 10 or 12 times – as if we were on autopilot.
I leaned back into the bucket seat of my hatchback, whose posture
recalled a dromedary. My hand squeezed the automatic clutch as if it
were a stick shift, and for the first time in a week I felt in control.

My destiny was clear: to span the East River. The
green light flashed above Tillary Street. I smashed down the
accelerator, and with its 130-horsepower engine, my car attacked the
1.5-mile route with exhaust streaking behind us, I imagined, like a

Shey discovers a few little hitches in her unfettered freedom, like traffic regulations:

the first couple of times, I took the Manhattan-bound Chambers Street
exit, ignoring the "No Turns" sign, and spun around as soon as I passed
the triangular traffic divider, a risky maneuver. I didn’t want to make
that a habit; I was well acquainted with the New York Police
Department. Once, on Tillary Street, opposite Brooklyn’s main post
office, I got pulled over by a police officer. He had found fault with
my decision to circumvent a backlogged entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge
by cutting across two lanes of traffic while waving my arm out the
window. I pushed open my door.

"Ma’am, stay in your car," the officer said. "Do you realize what I pulled you over for?"

"Gosh, I know I did something terribly wrong, sir. It felt terribly wrong."

He looked into my eyes. "Ma’am, among other things, you ran a red light. " I’ll let you off with a warning.

"Oh, thank you, sir. It’s a very confusing approach. I’ll do a better job next time."

Luck wouldn’t always be on my side. It was time to find a legal route.

was indeed with Shey, and the hapless pedestrians and bicyclists
cluttering the streets she felt called to zoom down, unhampered by
silly conventions like traffic lights and lane markings. Not because
she didn’t get a ticket, but because she didn’t injure anyone as her
car "attacked" her chosen route.

It apparently never
occurred to her that she might need to create a new family ritual for
Saturday mornings, one more suited to life in New York — like, say,
going for a walk. For Shey, evidently, standing on her own two feet
doesn’t afford as much freedom as burning oil on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo: Todd Heisler for the New York Times