Aaron DiManna
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Driving as Catharsis: The Coin-Flip Game

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A U.S. Quarter, perfect for the coin-flip game
Photo: Arun Kumar Singh via CC

I’ve written at length on The News Wheel about the cathartic aspects of driving — mainly based on representations in media, and frequently the music of The Mountain Goats — but I’ve never spoken about the act of driving itself. I often drive around town to clear my head, but when I have a bit of time to spare, I always turn to one unique navigation method; the coin-flip game.

Back and better than ever: The 2021 Chevy Trailblazer

The origins of the coin-flip

The coin-flip game was first introduced to me by a close friend during college when we lived in a pretty insular town surrounded by a miles-wide swath of farm fields and general nothingness. One day, they suggested that we gather a few others and go for a drive. The twist: We wouldn’t decide where we were going. Instead, we would drive until we reached a crossroads, then one of the non-driver participants would flip a coin. If it landed on heads, we would turn right. If it landed on tails, we would turn left.

So we set out in my slightly beat-up 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer and left the rest up to fate. First, we turned left, then right. Then right again, then left, and then ran into a seemingly endless run of same-direction turns that narrowly dodged becoming an experiment-ending ouroboros of cyclical driving thanks to one particularly long stretch of highway. Ultimately, we ended up at a park none of us had ever heard of and enjoyed a few moments of serenity at a lovely little lake we’d likely never see again.

It was delightful.

The benefits of the coin-flip

Unfortunately, my friends and I never went on a coin-flip adventure again. However, I’ve kept up the practice in the years since. There’s a unique freedom that comes from driving in the first place that’s only enhanced by removing the factor of choice. You get to see places you’d never have cause to visit otherwise, escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday responsibilities, and ultimately give yourself over to the road and the environment. Moreover, it’s a great way to escape the confines of your home — something that’s increasingly valuable considering the current health crisis.

I’ve used the coin-flip game to contemplate personal issues, explore my community without a clear destination, and as a way to get some fresh air and sunlight before I turn into something that looks like a precog from “Minority Report.” Invariably, I’ve found it to be a relaxing experience that leaves me feeling refreshed and centered.

So, if you find yourself feeling cooped-up and frustrated, consider grabbing one of the coins in your drunk drawer and heading out on a little adventure only you will ever know about. Or, think about Robert Frost, and take the path less traveled by. As he said, “That has made all the difference.”

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