17 Feb 2015

Interstate Love Song

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I’ve always loved driving on the interstate at night.

When I finally got my license at age 17, I defied my parents’ “no interstate driving” rule in short order. That first merge onto I-459 felt like a death-defying feat of dare-devilry. I’d never gone so fast of my own volition before, and the sense of liberation was sharp. I grew up in a road-trip-prone family, and my dad would often have me navigate from an ancient, yellowing road map. So, I knew the interstate system inside and out, knew what the numbers meant and how to interpret the signs, and knew–most importantly–that an interstate can take you almost anywhere in the country you want to go. Quite simply, I was free.

2338737975_b92ebb16f5A few months after I got my license, I started dating a boy a couple of years younger than me who lived about 20 minutes away. It was my job to pick him up and take him home on nights we spent time together. I think I dated him for longer than I would have otherwise simply to have an excuse to drive that much. His curfew was earlier than mine (by which I mean, he had one at all), so after I dropped him off, I often drove around alone for hours with my 90s alt-rock turned up loud. (I’m convinced I’m the only person to ever blow out the speakers on a Saturn sedan.) My parents were going through a messy divorce at the time, and I was slogging through the kind of adolescent depression that Zoloft was invented for. Those drives became my safe haven, a time to think and cry and write poetry in my head. My car became my safe place, and those solo drives got me through some immensely tough years.

I still love driving alone at night. I love the elegant sweep of on-ramps and the way they fold you into the flow of traffic as though you’ve always been there. I love watching terrain change on road trips, and how different the scenery looks just one hour outside of my hometown–plains to the south, mountains to the north. Through a windshield, the world looks poignant and surreal. The right music choice can turn traffic flow into a ballet, and shifting lights in the distance become a slow-motion fireworks displays. My deeply depressed days are largely behind me (thank God), but I still tend toward a melancholy that makes driving alone at night feel like being inside an early-2000s Radiohead video. And 17-year old me just loves that.

I’m by turns bemused and startled by the 17-year old girl I still am inside, especially behind the wheel at night. We often flatter ourselves into thinking we’re so much more evolved than we were in previous incarnations of ourselves, that we know so much more now than we used to. But there seem to be certain pieces of us that remain fundamentally unchanged. I can easily look back on 17-year old me and think of her as young and immature. But she was on to something when she attached to the glorious solitude of driving alone at night. All these years later, I’m grateful to my younger self for those late-night drives. And as gas prices drop and night-time road trips become a less expensive hobby, I find myself taking the long way home once again.

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One Response to “Interstate Love Song”

  1. Alex G says:

    This is great and i can relate. big time.