Since I’ve been home I’ve been driving my brother’s old car. It’s basically a hail-dented cockpit with an engine. When I first drove it yesterday, I didn’t like the seats, the clutch, the mirrors, the stereo, the seat belts…
But tonight I drove into the prairie at sunset and back home in the dark, and I loved everything about it. The shape of the shift knob felt right in my hand — better than any car I’ve driven. The pulsing reverb from the engine wasn’t annoying, but a pleasing confirmation. Even the way the whole thing shook when I slowed down to a stop was a little charming.
Only one thing broke this weird little trance: just as I was crossing back into town, the most singularly perfect cricket chirp came through the window. I was driving 60 mph. I was listening to music. I can’t even begin to explain the physics of the situation. It’s impossible. But I heard this cricket just as clear as if it had been sitting on my shoulder.
I don’t have any mystical conclusions to make here except to say that this was a scientific miracle. There’s no reason that I should have been able to hear this cricket, and yet I did. I am quietly stunned.
I caught a ride from a friend tonight as I was traveling from Virginia back to DC. I inadvertently (OK, I walked the wrong way) ended up going on foot from downtown Arlington back up into Georgetown, where I caught my neighborhood bus.
I stopped in a park along the way to look at the stars. I counted 11.
I remember telling Jenny a long time ago something along the lines of, “I never want to live in a place where I can’t see the stars at night.”
Look at me now, standing in the middle of a field, counting, shaking my head — that can’t be right — and counting again.
I used to be afraid of the wind. It seems like it was always a precursor to something worse, and it triggered anxiety quickly and violently when I was a child. Being cripplingly scared of something without physical form made for some amusing reflection once I was old enough to understand metaphor, but there was nothing funny about being too afraid to go outside at recess.
Right now, I’m waiting for a bus so I can meet my friends and play tennis; newspapers are blowing by, the trees are rippling up top, and the sidewalk is a fussy mix of girls pushing the hair out of their eyes and bikers just getting through it. And I feel like Macaulay Culkin standing at the top of his stairs saying, “Hey, I’m not afraid anymore!”
I bought a new car recently, and when I first arrived at the dealership the associate told me that the model I was looking to test drive was “a great car — it’s our luxury package.” I quickly understood that I was about to experience a car with a sunroof and nice speakers. Another time, someone tried to sell me a less than magnificent set of knives by asserting that they could cut pennies in half.
And yet I’m human, and there’s one phrase that I fall for every time: ice cold.
A few years ago I bought a grilled sandwich for lunch at my favorite Colorado bakery. It was pretty hot outside — mid 90s, I’m sure. The owner asked me if I wanted a cream soda to go with my sandwich. I hesitated and he pounced. “Ice cold,” he said soothingly as I looked out the window and then back at the display of sodas arranged tastefully in a glass front refrigerator. I gave him two more dollars.
More recently I was reading an article in Rolling Stone about one of my favorite singers. He was sitting on the porch of his ranch in Montana “sipping an ice cold IPA.” I immediately thought, “God, I have to one.”
The thing is that nothing is ice cold for very long. The very act of drinking helps make the act of drinking less pleasant because my fingers on the glass, the air in the room — they are all heated. And still I yearn for that moment where expectation meets reality.
When I was little, we had some leftover cake after a birthday celebration. My dad offered me the last slice and I said I didn’t want it. I went downstairs for a while, but then just a few tragic hours later I decided that I did in fact want that piece of cake. I came back upstairs and found out that it was gone. I was upset. How could this happen?
That’s sort of how I feel near the end of a trip home.
"Nobody sees what we see they’re just hopelessly gazing…
I’ll search through the crowd your face is all that I see I’ll give you everything”
For instance, oil trains are required to have an empty boxcar between the engines and the tankers. And there’s a key difference between a census designated place and a municipality involving governmental representation. And did you know that sugar beets were once a prime eastern Colorado export? And that Sugar City takes its name from that industry? Because I do.
But I do not know my father’s favorite song or what albums he listened to when he was my age. I’m not sure if he has a favorite color, or a place that brings him peace. And I will never know why he won’t, even today, even just for a second, consider moving away from here.
I don’t know these things because he doesn’t know these things, and I feel like as long as he is compelled to teach me random minutia, I will always be learning the wrong things.
I had visions of a windows down, Neil Young tinged, come-what-may trip from DC to Colorado, but my dad has been super anxious to get home, so we’ve more or less been blazing across the country.
The compromise was this: we stay on US Highway 50 for the duration of the trip. US 50 runs from Ocean City in Maryland to Sacramento, and actually the road ends up bordering my dad’s neighborhood in Colorado. So that’s what we’ve been doing.
It’s slow going in patches because 50 turns into the main through street for so many of the small towns we’ve hit in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, but I think it’s better than straight up major interstate driving. You actually experience the landscape of each state; you wind through West Virginia’s tight mountain curves, rise and fall through Ohio’s green valleys, and then skirt the endless pastures of the midwest.
It hasn’t all been butterflies and sunshine. I’ve seen more animal carcasses in the past three days than I have in my entire life. After seeing so many you can kind of tell by the size of the dark stain on the pavement what the impact was like and how much suffering was involved. And it’s painful to see some towns collapsing inward and dying like shipwrecks. There’s a lot of stagnancy and isolation in the middle of the country that I never understood until I left.
But the best moments have been courtesy of the stack of CDs I forgot to move out of the car before we left. They’ve made something that has turned out to be fairly predictable feel a little bit more spontaneous. And out here, where you can actually see the sun set from the sky all the way down to the horizon, dusk is really something.
I’m in the homestretch from KC to Emporia, curving south-southwest. I bring the wheel around, this song comes on, I turn the volume up, straighten out with the sun in my face, remind myself that I’m here with someone I love, and click repeat.
"Now there’s something here before me, I figure, I think / Isn’t there a warning? Or something to drink? / My God, oh my God…”
If you live in a city (or really anywhere) you’ll sometimes see transients who talk to themselves. Sometimes they just mumble, but sometimes they can be a little more aggressively conversational. I always wonder how aware they are; maybe by making sounds they’re asserting their own existence when most people tend to ignore them.
I sometimes do the same thing. I like to sing to myself right when a Metro is slowing down beside me because I can be pretty loud without actually being heard. For like 10 seconds I’m just a tiny, somewhat harmonious part of the noisy machinery of the world. And only I will ever know.
"Lately I feel like a blown out birthday candle One look in the mirror and I know the party’s over And yeah I want a big house with a swimming pool Fuck it baby, I’ve got you”
My relationship with 80’s music/what I think 80’s music sounds like/indie pop that I guess is nostalgic for the 80’s goes like this: I hated it, oh God I hated it, I kind of liked it, oh my God I really like this, I want this to be all new and synthesizer-y like this song.
This song just sums some things up in a clappy sort of way.