[Originally posted January, 2011]
That, unfortunately, was one of the few tokens of wisdom I took away from Driver's Ed, circa 1991.
The goal was to use a catchy little phrase to remind tender 16-year-olds to look far in the distance while driving, as opposed to playing Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon with the steering wheel. Assuming it was just an obligatory lesson, I'm sure it was dismissed by most of us as such; it's retention about as indelible as a Garfield press-on tattoo from the State Fair. Yet I still clearly remember the grainy, late 1960s-produced film, complete with wiggly, white vertical lines whirring up the screen from the bottom, and the words "Aim High In Steering" sat centered, almost vibrating, in blotchy Times New Roman font. Naturally it was accompanied by a man's voiceover using a classic half-Midwestern, half-English accent; a man who still looks like Walter Cronkite in my head.
That very phrase that meant little more than yarn to me at the time. But today, it took on a much deeper, more resilient meaning.
As I was careening around a curve I've navigated thousands of times, I felt my anti-lock brakes spring into action and remind me to slow the fuck down. There was a 2-inch-thick layer of ice caking the pavement. And though I knew every upcoming dip, every pothole, and every chink in the ice floor to be wary of in order to save my chassis, my gaze diverted much further away and up around the curve, anticipating someone else driving just as recklessly towards me. "Aim High in Steering" rushed front stage in my memory...and an epiphany fell on my anxious mind: this ridiculous phrase also rang true in life.
Now I'm no radical philosopher, but try to follow me here. When "aiming high" in steering, you're not staring at the road 3 inches in front of your vehicle as you travel. It would greatly hinder your ability to anticipate -- or appreciate, for that matter -- the scenery approaching and/or surrounding. Whether it be a lovely park, a perfectly-timed convenience store, or a weary driver drifting into the on-coming lane, chances are you'd miss it all completely if you merely stared at the pavement immediately approaching your wheels. In that case, you'd have nothing to show for it but a mind-film of redundant gravel, a full bladder, or bits of glass and teeth spread over an area much larger than the initial 3 inches.
But in aiming high, you not only catch the aforementioned 3 inches in your peripheral vision, but you also gain great perspective on the world around you, both familiar and unexpected.
That beautiful pink and orange hued sunset, kissing the horizon with it's cottony lips? Saw it.
The group of deer bounding across the center median? Averted.
That incredible high moon you followed for miles? Like you could almost touch each and every delicate crater.
Sure, you didn't hone in on the dip in the road you knew was coming...you've traveled that path hundreds of times. You rolled over it's mediocrity and ignored it's repetition, and fully appreciated the new landscape sprawling across the vast road in front of you.
Go a little further than you had initially...you may just see a stranger on the side of the road that needs a little help, and watch as those Hidden-Dragon drivers blaze right past. And while you weren't necessarily planning on much personal interaction, there was the opportunity to help, to meet, to interact...and you took it. That one person in distress, innocently waiting for a kind soul to hap upon them, could be the most important person that ever graced your presence.
And you would've missed it had you not been....Aiming High in Steering.
Funny....a menial little phrase from Driver's Ed just catapulted me into preemptive nostalgia! Routinely taking the same road so many times, knowing all the dips and potholes and ice pockets, gets you to the same place. But one flip in the script and you may very well find yourself staring down the barrel of something you would have never seen coming.
Next lesson: The I.P.D.E. Method....stay tuned.