Column Classic: Miles To Go

By Lisa Scottoline

I know I’m supposed to become my mother, but I’m actually becoming my father.

At least I thought of him recently, when I checked the mileage on my car. I’m at 94,272, and I’ve watched it inch up from 94,109 and before that, 93,820. I check my mileage more often than I check my weight, and that’s saying something. On a long trip, I actually watch my mileage like it’s a movie with George Clooney.

I can’t get enough.

Bottom line, I’m way too involved with my car mileage.  The more miles I have, the happier I get.  I dream about hitting 100,000 miles like some people dream about hitting the lottery.


It makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something, though I haven’t. It’s my car that’s done all the work. I’m just along for the ride. Still, every time I hit a new 10,000 mile mark, I feel like celebrating.

Growing up, I remember The Flying Scottolines driving around in our ‘64 Corvair Monza, and my father pointing to the mileage counter as the little white numbers turned slowly to something. He was so excited that we all clapped, but I didn’t understand why.

Now I’m excited, and I still don’t understand why.

I used to think it was because if I accumulated enough miles, I could justify getting a new car. But that’s not it. I love my car and want to be buried in it, with a Diet Coke in the cupholder.

At around 17,328,000,000 miles.

But I’m wondering if my mileage thing is related to my Things To Do List thing. I love having a Things To Do list, and over the years, I perfected a template for my Things To Do list. I write the list of Things To Do on the right, and on the left, next to each Thing, I draw a big circle. I get to check the circle only after each Thing is Done.

Oh boy, I love checking those circles.  I make a big check, like a schoolteacher at the top of your homework. Then I stand before my list and survey with satisfaction all the checked circles.

And oddly, I admit that I’ve added to the list a Thing I’ve already Done, just so I can check the circle.

I know, right?

It’s kind of kooky.

So I told this to a friend of mine, and she told me she does things this kooky, and she also added another kooky thing. She has a Kindle, which is an electronic reader, and at the bottom of each page, it tells you what percentage of the book that you’ve read. As you read the book, the percentage increases, and she has found herself watching the percentage increase as she reads. She’s gotten used to the fact that she read 57% of a book, as opposed to 45 chapters, and she’s even figured out how many pages it takes to increase the percentage a point. The other night, she couldn’t go to sleep because she had read 96% of the book and she had to get to 100%.

Okay, the friend is me.

Now you know.

I’m sensing that these three things – mileage counters, Things To Do, and reading percentages – are related.

Am I taking too task-oriented an approach to life?

Or am I celebrating the small things?

Or both?

There’s a great quote by E.L. Doctorow, which says that “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I sense this quote is related, too, and that it applies not only to writing, but to everything, at least for me. Because writing a novel is like driving to Toronto or cleaning your house or starting War and Peace. Any large task is intimidating at the beginning, but it’s doable if it’s broken down, mile by mile, Thing by Thing, percentage point by percentage point. And when you finally finish that task, you can check the circle.

Have a Diet Coke, for me.

And my father.

Copyright © Lisa Scottoline