Me, my minivan, and the best times to hit the road

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In the search for inexplicable satisfaction—the quest for perfection and just the right moment, the hurricane of “never enough, always more” that spirals around me incurably—I am left with just the moments that are accidental. 

Moments that have little forethought, moments that happen between the end of this day and the beginning of the next, or at four pm when nothing at all is expected to happen, or as the sun melts into twilight, or perhaps that’s just the point. 

And behind the wheel, from place to place, between here and there, these moments are golden. 

Since getting my license, my minivan—lovingly named Mabel, filled to the brim with months of memories in trash, adorned with both SpongeBob and Ruth Bader Ginsburg air fresheners, and at any given time home to at least one nonbinary stuffed animal and a brood of miniature craft chickens, all named Kurt, from Hobby Lobby—has been the vessel for many adventures, at every sporadic hour of the day. 

And even though those moments could never be replicated, I can’t help but think that certain hours of the day are meant for the road, meant for Mabel, meant for me and the gas pedal and the people I’ve bonded my soul to.

As the sun begins to set

I have to start here, at the end, at a time that is just right, but only if I let go of puppeteer strings that my fingers scream to hold onto. My camera roll is liberally sprinkled with snapshots of sunsets, many witnessed through my front windshield or battered side mirrors. Sunset has always been a sacrosanct moment in which I can consider the universe and my purpose within it, yet I can’t recall ever deciding to take to the road as threads of color blanket the sky and tuck the sun into bed. It’s always just happened

In all of its innate spontaneity, sunset instills its values within me—a messy, beautiful conclusion, a chance for change, a need, perhaps, to do something, to be someone. And in a rare moment, my foot relinquishes it’s insistent and desperate pressure on the gas pedal, and I find myself in a parking lot, like a kid on jungle gym as I sit criss-cross-applesauce on the top of my minivan.

It might be the only time when it feels okay to be alone, maybe because I’m simply in between moments of humanity, or because my thoughts can only truly belong to me when I’m alone. It’s “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John and piano floating through the background in rosy pinks and lipstick reds, the lacy build-up of “Ribs” by Lorde as I careen onto the highway ramp, “Strawberry Wine” by Lemondrop for the first time, pulled from the menagerie of my Spotify Discover Weekly in all it’s indistinguishable beauty. 

It’s the watercolor of the sky and the music and the aching desire in my heart to become the moment, to be one with the world that has hurt me because perhaps then it would hurt me less. ”

It’s the watercolor of the sky and the music and the aching desire in my heart to become the moment, to be one with the world that has hurt me because perhaps then it would hurt me less. 

Hours past my curfew, 1 a.m. on November 1, if you’d like to get into specifics

There’s a certain emptiness that accompanies the hours after midnight, a flighty sort of exhaustion that leaves you guessing. There’s an awareness that maybe you understand it all finally and at the same time are completely lost in the dark. 

I feel just a bit broken all the time, but there’s something about those after-midnight hours that creates a lacuna perfectly shaped for my brokenness. Avoidance becomes the game, the gamble; you throw all your chips in because there’s nothing left to lose, and then you try your hardest to cajole Fate into favoring you. But sometimes she simply can’t be bothered. 

I like to think that Fate favors me on the road; it would explain the clean record that doesn’t match my precarious driving antics. One a.m. is asking a lot of her, I imagine, but the road is my best bargain. 

Avoidance becomes the game, the gamble; you throw all your chips in because there’s nothing left to lose, and then you try your hardest to cajole Fate into favoring you.”

It’s quiet. It’s bright, but not like the sun. It’s a toss-up if anything’s still open, but the glowing neon lights will reliably be on. And when a Walgreens on a corner somewhere happens to still be open, there’s a thrill in being the only ones inside. 

There’s a thrill in realizing nothing matters and no one cares, at least right now, although perhaps it’s always like this, just too shiny and bright to really see. I can blast the opening bells of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey through the Bluetooth in my car, even if it’s November 1. 

There are no rules at one a.m., nothing I have to do, no one I have to pretend to be. There’s nothing but me, my best friend, Fate, and a once-busy avenue lined with sleeping shops.

As the sky turns from light gray to pale blue and yellow

Sometimes I wonder if the sunrise is less beautiful than the sunset. 

Sunset is the divine moment within each monotonous expanse of daytime, but it’s superlative simply because I am awake to witness it. Sunrise is a hidden pocket of time among the hours that so often find me asleep, through no fault of its own, a moment that my consciousness is so rarely allowed to brush against. 

But when it does, when I allow one day to blend into the next, when I watch night become day, I relish in not knowing where the line is; it’s just as beautiful as sunset. Sunset grows above me, putting my presence into perspective, considering the possibility that my significance is feather-light, but sunrise extends in tendrils from me, up and out, and I want to be the focal point; I want to be someone, and I am someone. 

I find myself on the road at sunset. I put myself on the road at sunrise. As pale gray becomes a soft yellow that pushes its fingers through the tree branches, reaching, I can feel that I’m living through the engine that hums beneath me. 

I can stop in the middle of the road to watch a world I don’t know become one that I do, to roll the windows down and feel the mist and the dew on my cheeks, to allow the presence of my dreams consume the bated silence of the open road. 

And I can scream; I can sing aloud with Miss Taylor Swift, at the top of my lungs, span the decades of her music in mere minutes: “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “22,” “Style,” “London Boy,” “I Forgot That You Existed,” “Paper Rings,” “Cruel Summer,” “Betty.”

I am every moment that once was, every moment that is, every moment that will be, a coalescence of dreams and reality, what will never be again, and all that is meant to be.

10:15 p.m. D&W runs

Sometimes I need to get out because the house is the only thing I can get out of—my car the only instrument that will play the tune of escape. 

When I resent the skin I’m in, itch to finally tear open the thin fractures that decorate my shell, I need something to control, something to change. So I run; I run because I can control where I go. 

I run because the speed of my escape is a matter of the gas pedal beneath me, and that is all. 

Usually, I end up at D&W, a store whose employees must be familiarly acquainted with my chaotic ensembles, my frenzied pacing, my indecision, my often tear-stained cheeks. But it’s the parking lot of D&W that serves as the exposition for all of the indie-coming-of-age moments that I blandly yearn for. 

We sit outside my car in the empty parking lot as staticy charcoal gray emerges from the mellow navy blue and watch skater boys under street lights across the parking lot…”

We sit outside my car in the empty parking lot as staticy charcoal gray emerges from the mellow navy blue and watch skater boys under street lights across the parking lot, while sharing bottles of fruit water and avoiding the weight of emotions that won’t blossom sorrowfully for months. 

And when those feelings finally flower, I’ll sit in the front seat of my car, the rubberbands constricting my chest threatening to break, blasting a playlist that is my heroine in shining armor: angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion created by Casey Aucoin on Spotify. “Kiss With A Fist” by Florence + The Machine sates a rabid energy within myself that nothing but perhaps another song on this playlist might match. 

But it’s the up and down slopes and 45 miles an hour speed limit and the labyrinth of roads behind my house that nearly always reminds of my existence in that satisfyingly aching sort of way. No matter what time of day, driving that road feels like home but so far from home, everywhere and nowhere all at once. 

It’s a road meant for any song on my, artfully named, oh yeah babyyyyy playlist: “Jesus In LA” by Alec Benjamin that always seems to play as a I crest the hill before my neighborhood, “Candy” by Robbie Williams that I’m embarrassed to admit is a TikTok song but nonetheless is a remedy for my sadness on those back roads, “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men that reminds me of ukuleles and open houses and sleeping in unfamiliar places.

Maybe it’s the music that I haphazardly play through the Bluetooth and can’t drive without or maybe it’s the feeling of control, of being who I’ve always wanted to be and simultaneously so far from the person I want to be. Whatever it is, it calls me to the road, calls me to the wheel, calls me to the gas pedal, begs me to keep going. 

Whatever it is, I thank it for giving me the moments that make me wonder who I am. Whatever it is, I thank it for taking the wheel in the moments when I can’t.