The clocked winked. I swear it winked at me. Four in the morning, and I cannot fall asleep. On some days this would be fine – lying awake in bed in the small hours of the morning the cool sheets against my skin and no one to interrupt my thoughts. But those are days other than today. Today I am lying awake, legs twitching nervously, checking the clock every few minutes to see if it is any closer to morning. It is not. And I would testify in court that the clock winked at me in condescending acknowledgement that time is not passing. The clock and I are stuck here at 4am with nowhere else to go.
It feels like Christmas, but no not Christmas. And I am too old for that, for the toys and the stockings and the candy. And being too old for those things there is no one who would give them to me anyway. Santa stopped coming when I was just a little kid, and there is not family to fill in like back in the tight times. No, this isn’t Christmas. Heck, it isn’t even winter. Nope this is early Autumn and the reason my nerves are so jangled and sleep evades me is because I am going on a trip. A road trip. I love road trips.
There is something about the act of driving that just makes me happy. And calm. Driving has the opposite affect on my system that the anticipation of driving does, and the opposite affect on me that the sheer dread of driving inflicts on others. When I get behind the wheel and put the car in gear my blood pressure will drop, my anxieties will fade, my mind will clear, and I will become one with the road. Then, as the miles begin to slip smoothly away beneath the wheels of the car all my cares will slip away with them. The mile after mile of white lines and asphalt will be, to my mind, like running a comb through tangled hair. The strands of thought will straighten out, the twisted knots will become undone, and a smooth stillness will take over.
Driving has had the affect on me since the very beginning. I had worried that I would never learn to drive, that I would be to nervous and anxious. I had wondered how I would ever get used to all those tons of machinery zooming past on all sides of me. How would I ever adjust to watching the road, the gauges, the other cars, and all the road conditions, signals and signs at simultaneously? Those worries were empty though – as empty as the promise that a willing girlfriend would spontaneously appear the moment I got my driver’s license. But that was no matter, once I took the wheel of the car in hand I was happy and the relationship between me and the road was the only one I cared for.
And we spent many hours together, that road and I. We started off small – just trips back and forth to school or short evening outings about town with friends. But slowly they got longer. Longer trips in town, and then to the other side of town. Then out of town for some school functions and college interviews. Then finally I was running all over the south east as often as I could. It took years for the next leap, but when it came that leap took me all the way up the East coast and out to the Mississippi River. I also spent time driving in Ireland and England, though not in an automotively uninterrupted trip. And even in those foreign lands with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, my wrong hand changing gears, and the crisis of remembering which side of the road to end up on after every junction and roundabout, I still felt at home. Foot to pedal and hands on wheels and gearshifts is where I was meant to be.
And the anticipation of that must be much like that of a junkie anticipating his next hit. It is the thrill of knowing what is coming tinged slightly by the realization that the pleasure will be all too short lived and the abandonment on the other side will be both complete and impossible to explain. The journey really is the reward – well, at least as long as the journey is a road trip and I can be behind the wheel.
4:05 in the morning. I am going to wipe that smirk right off the clock’s face.