Yesterday I drove 350 miles and ended up right back where I started. It was supposed to be two days of driving — to fetch Pete at one aunt-and-uncle’s house and deposit him at another — but after a toddler vomited on the floor Pete and I decided to hit the road early.1)Carsickness from 12 hours in the car, as it turns out.
Pete was with me for all of 100 minutes, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner together at a Taco Bell where I was served what was perhaps the freshest Taco Bell taco I have ever experienced. It was at this Taco Bell that I asked Pete, “Hey Pete, what’s that on your shirt?” and he said “Oh, I think that’s chili from the hot dog I had with Papa and Lola,” at which point I realized that my son had been wearing the same shirt for some three days. The rules are different for 11-year-old boys at their grandpa’s for the weekend.
It was dusk when we reached my sister-in-law’s house, and after I met my nephew’s very sweet dog and hugged my sister-in-law and another nephew and bid Pete farewell: It was dark. I don’t like to drive after dark because the oncoming headlights hurt my delicate eyeballs, but the Road So Far had been pretty empty so I onward I forged.
The Road continued to be empty as I made my way through the South Carolina countryside, back to the interstate. My eyeballs were unscathed, but my soul was unsettled by the creeping fog and the long stretches of empty highway. It felt like I was the only person left on the planet for 15 minutes at a time. A quarter of an hour is a very long time to feel like you’ve been abandoned by the rest of humanity, even if sometimes when you read the news you think maybe Thanos was on to something. And then that short-long lonely feeling would be interrupted by headlights swiftly growing larger and brighter in my rearview mirror, and for 45 seconds I would become convinced I was about to be run off the road and murdered.
I shouldn’t, maybe, be left alone with my thoughts.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)2)Thus spoke Walt Whitman
Years later I reached the interstate and was immediately swept away in a river of speeding 18-wheelers, and soon The Machine told me I should get off the interstate because trouble was a-brewin’ ahead. But I am no Michael Scott. I would not drive into a lake for The Machine. And so in my hubris, I took neither the first nor the second nor even the third exit that The Machine recommended. And then the 18-wheelers all came to an abrupt stop and a Jeep Cherokee from the 1980s nearly careened into the back of one and I realized that The Machine had, in fact, known. I took the next exit The Machine recommended.
Again, I drove through empty highway, creepy creeping fog. Again, my dumb brain skipped through a field of the macabre as I drove through small, vacated downtowns and passed by Revolutionary War battlefields and one Shriners’ Club featuring, this weekend only, Mike Bulburn and His All-Star Band.
I listened to a lot of Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon and James Taylor, and then a 6-month-old episode of “This American Life” helped keep my eyes open for the last 30 minutes of my drive. I finally rolled back into the garage nearly 8 hours after I left, and I did not experience a quintessential NPR driveway moment because I was too, too tired for more listening.
I didn’t learn anything new about myself on my epic two-state odyssey, but I did average 34.8 miles per gallon. And that ain’t nothing.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Carsickness from 12 hours in the car, as it turns out.|
|2.||↑||Thus spoke Walt Whitman|