Driving to and from work in your own car was once an escape. The car was the last personal space before going into the office and final refuge at the end of the day. A place where, no matter what happened at work, you had full control over every decision. But at some point, for many people, it\u2019s become just another chore. Traffic, urban sprawl, and increasingly long commutes have made it harder to enjoy driving, and for many, it\u2019s an added source of stress. How do you turn that around and make your drive a source of enjoyment?\n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nRoad & Track and I are working with Mazda to help define new ways to make a very specific kind of driving feel more enjoyable. I was loaned a 2018 Mazda6 Signature for the experiment, and immediately some things come through very clearly. Yes, this version of the Mazda6 is incrementally improved in many ways, and\u2014like many Mazdas before it\u2014the driving experience feels telepathic, especially for the segment. (A full editorial review of the Mazda6 can be viewed here.)\n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nMy home base of Houston, Texas, is the fourth-largest city in the United States. The Space City has enjoyed massive development in recent years, but that positive has led to a pretty big negative: the city now encompasses almost 600 square miles, and many residents commute from suburbs farther outside those city limits. A 90-mile roundtrip commute isn\u2019t uncommon.So what\u2019s it really like to tackle massive distances twice a day? Starting in one of Houston\u2019s southeastern suburbs, I wanted to see first-hand how it could be possible to celebrate the driving part of a long commute.Take the B-Roads Leave earlier, to spend more time on the road? Go with it for a moment. There\u2019s two strategies here: first, I sought out a route that starts far away from the big interstates, focusing on less-congested surface roads with a few magical, off-camber turns thrown in before getting on to the regimented Interstate. The second strategy is getting the monotony over early, hop on the highway for the first 25 miles, and then exit to your own alternative route for the last leg before battling it out for your favorite parking space.\n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nIn my experience, it\u2019s more pleasant dealing with a few more stoplights and lower speeds but have more agency over your progress, so I\u2019m definitely partial to option one. You\u2019re less likely to be stuck in a standstill on a concrete-barriered highway behind an accident two miles up ahead. Shake up your route, and your commute becomes a journey. For this exploration, I'm picking option one.In Houston, the ever-present urban sprawl has grown in three directions but has left the far East side untouched and even uninhabited for now. Proximity to the petroleum industry and Houston\u2019s vast shipping channel have made the land less appealing for residential development and kept the relatively well-maintained roads pretty quiet. It's a total throwback to the meandering Boulevard days of the Post-War era. Wide open spaces, varying grades, and amazing textures to gawk at. Behind the newly finessed wheel of the Mazda6, I began in the Seabrook area of the city. Shoving off via TX-146 to the Pasadena freeway makes a quick journey to my favorite hidden gem: Red Bluff Road. It\u2019s here that I get to explore the driver-focused dynamics of the Mazda6 that I\u2019ve read so much about. Discover the City Beyond Yelp If you ask most Houstonians where the only underwater car tunnel in Texas is, few would guess it\u2019s directly underneath the ship channel on the east side of their city. But drive down Federal Road and there it is: Washburn Tunnel, a nearly-3,000 foot tunnel built in 1950 underneath the Houston Ship Channel. This may not be a thrill to anyone from New York, or indeed, many major cities, but in Texas? A tunnel is an oddity. Houston is completely flat. There are no geographic barriers preventing developers from building neighborhoods, box stores, and strip malls over every square inch of this place, so something as audacious as a tile-lined, resonance-inducing exhaust note amplifier? That\u2019s truly amazing. \n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\n It transports you to somewhere completely alien, a portal from a sunlit morning to a fluorescent-lit nighttime environment in an instant. It is said that the light intensity at the ends of a tunnel is three times brighter than the interior to prevent temporary blindness for drivers. How considerate! As the building block for a supercommute, it becomes a wakeup, a reset. It makes the tasks waiting on the other side seem positively energizing, perhaps?Something Old, Something New The far reaches of the East Side feel nearly pre-historic (in real estate terms). This land wasn\u2019t seen as valuable enough to bulldoze and redevelop, so if something became vacant, it was just left to rot. I\u2019m guilty of being fascinated by nostalgia, not because of a longing for the past, but an appreciation of an aesthetic that seems to have been lost in translation along the way. I\u2019m not drawn to derelict machinery or empty brick buildings themselves, but to the fantastic signage and lettering that often adorns them. More often than not, old industrial signage is richly drawn, with perfectly spaced letters and now 45 years worth of patina from soaking in the Texas sun. It\u2019s an art, and one that seems to be slipping away. Signs used to be crafted by artisans; nowadays they\u2019re typeset in Arial Bold.\n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nThe sense of artistry in those old signs still exists but in a much different form. It was easy to draw parallels between those perfectly rendered forms and the interior of the revised Mazda6 (no, really). There\u2019s a thoughtfulness in the sense of craftsmanship and thoughtfulness of small design elements. The stitching of the upholstery and trim, black matte-finished wood, and\u2014my favorite\u2014the expertly sculpted, polished metal accents create a cabin environment that offers the best kind of contrast to the normally drab task of driving to work. Art in Your Surroundings \n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nExposure to art stimulates the brain and just makes you feel better. So maybe faded signage and gothic lettering isn\u2019t your thing: the good news is you\u2019re probably surrounded by expressive works of art painted on walls and buildings that you could be driving past every day. Street art and murals are au curant in Houston. The East Side bordering downtown makes it easy to seek out newly public work created beyond the cover of darkness. Their artistry is now celebrated and commissioned by local business and municipalities. The beautification and pops of color are a welcome addition to the city\u2014and act as point of pause between early morning traffic lights.The Mechanical Sounds of Zen Easier said than done, but not focusing on a traffic report or buzzing notification can be accomplished by simply paying attention to the road feel beneath your fingertips. Study what the tires are doing and what they\u2019re telling you (the accurate steering on the Mazda6 helps with this immensely). Maybe you\u2019ll experience driving nirvana, or maybe you\u2019ll have an epiphany that cracks that problem on your project at work. Either way, embrace the moment: instead of tuning out to put yourself somewhere else, try doing the opposite and see what happens. Your podcasts will still be there when you get to work. \n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nHouston is largely devoid of curvy roads, but Navigation Boulevard is a rare exception, with path roughly parallel to the tightly twisting Buffalo Bayou. Some parts are beautiful and tree-lined, some parts are decidedly not, but all of it is largely un-trafficked and perfect for squeezing the throttle a little harder than necessary and subtly seeking out the best line through the gentle sweeping corners of the wide, four-lane boulevard. The turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four in the Mazda6 Signature is particularly well-suited to this type of road, giving you a nice surge of power on demand when cruising\u2014250 hp with premium 93-octane fuel (227 HP with 87-octane fuel) and 310 lb-ft of torque, to be precise.Park Away From the Crowd When you arrive at your destination, park a little farther than you need to. If you have the option, climb up an extra floor or two in the parking garage to get that end spot. If it\u2019s a parking lot, seek out the spot in the shade, even if it\u2019s a little farther away. The extra walking distance is good to get the blood flowing. Isn\u2019t it better to leave your car in the space that you chose instead of settling for whatever\u2019s available, sandwiched between two door-ding prone pickup trucks? Even better, beyond the parking structure, what about something completely different?Become Inspired by your City\u2019s Past Houston\u2019s blue tile street names trace back to at least 1928. Before green-and-white posted street signs became ubiquitous, street names were indicated by these intricate whit and blue mosaic tiles embedded into the curbs. As roads and intersections have expanded or been repaved, many tiles have been lost, but thousands of these iconic tile street markers still survive today. As you arrive at work and battle over the same parking space\u2014what could exist just beyond the confines of your office park? Taking note of small details like this help make for a more fulfilling morning.\n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nThe Night Drive BackStay late, read, exercise\u2014be the anti-sheep. After the traffic clears you can head out and look up\u2014admire the variation of texture and light that surrounds your daily parking situation.Take note of the temperature of light that evolves from Downtown back out to the suburbs. The glow from intense to subdued, becoming ever more amber. \n\tAdvertisement - Continue Reading Below\n\t\n\nYou set out to do one thing and end up somewhere else that\u2019s more fulfilling than you ever suspected: that\u2019s the beauty of a commute as a journey. Things just kind of figure themselves out behind the wheel.Kevin McCauley is a photographer and graphic designer based in Houston, TX. His perspective on the built world and automotive universe is unique because of his equal love for cars and the nuances of tyopgraphic-driven design.