We’d always talked about taking a road trip, you and I. But it seemed that one thing after another conspired to get in the way.
I had commitments, you had business trips, there were holidays, family birthdays, walls to be painted, projects to be completed, and piles of work to be done.
So when our house of tarot cards came tumbling down despite the best of predictions, I decided to take fate into my own hands and hit Route 66, all by my lonesome.
A friend on a traveling nursing assignment in Kingman, Ariz., offered the perfect excuse.
“Come’on and visit,” she said. “It’s hotter than hell here, but the accommodations are clean and free, and the drive will do you good. What you really need right now is a little fresh air between your ears.”
I wouldn’t describe myself as super-spontaneous, and usually that impulse control acts in my favor, but I could feel that I was mired in the mud, spinning my wheels.
I tried to imagine where a solo road trip would fit into Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief.
Would it be denial to take off, pretending that the chapter of my life with you hadn’t just snapped shut on my hand?
Or was it finally a sign of acceptance – a welcoming of the uncertainties of the open road and the endless white line stretched out in front of me?
I ran through all of this in my head, and finally decided I was spending way too much of my time and energy thinking about a woman who was gone (that would be you again) and places I had never been.
I knew I could fix one of these in a broken heartbeat.
I spent some time that evening assembling some music for the trip. Every good road trip has to have a soundtrack, right?
Then I got up early the next morning, watered the plants, checked the balance in my bank account, and threw some stuff into a REI duffle bag. On the way out of town I stopped in at the local garage and had the oil changed in my car. You know that every time I take the Mustang in there, the guy at the counter offers to buy her from me. This visit was no different.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that to you,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “It just wouldn’t be fair to either of us. She’s red and flashy, but completely unable to make a commitment. She’d break your heart. I’m just one in a long line of women who have driven her. Eventually everyone gives up in frustration. I’ve had her take turns that weren’t on my route, and come to a complete stop when I least expected it. She requires constant attention. Hell, I have to come in here each time I plan to drive her more than a hundred miles. She’s the most self-absorbed woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
And as always, he smiled like the lovesick teenager he is. “Well, when she’s ready . . . I mean when you’re ready, you know where to find me,” he said, handing me my keys.
There are a lot of memories in this car. I brought Ripley home in this car when he was a puppy. I’ve moved at least three times in this car. You can pack an awful lot of stuff into a convertible when the top’s down.
And of course, there are memories of you in this car. You drove her as much as I did, and I’m sure there’s nothing in the interior I can touch that you haven’t touched too, especially in the backseat. I’m sure you remember the time we drove to the coast to watch the sunset. We were kissing long and deep like a Hollywood movie, when somehow we ended up back there. Ostensibly we were just huddled together trying to keep warm, but one thing led to another, and pretty soon my shirt was off and you had somehow lost a shoe with your foot dangling over the side. As I remember, you kicked it away at the very moment of your climax, your eyes, focused on mine in the dimming light, suddenly widening as you realize it had gone flying. You were panting and laughing at the same time.
We were still laughing about it the next day, about how you drove home with just one shoe. But it really bugged you, so you drove back out to the coast that afternoon, searching until you found it. A whole afternoon spent on a Converse sneaker. You were always a little over-concerned with your shoes.
I was hoping that this long drive with my top down would blow the scent of you right out of my backseat.
I double checked my map with its big squiggly capital “L” that I’d drawn… first a drive down the coast on Coast Highway One, then a big left turn in Santa Monica, right onto old ’66 herself.
I pulled out onto the road, fired up the stereo and started heading south on 101.
Chris Webster’s “Candy Bars and Freedom” poured out of my speakers:
Get in the car, don’t look back.
Get in the fast lane, get on the inside track
When you’ve gone a hundred miles, have yourself a candy bar.
I never thought you’d get this far.
This for real. You won’t be back.
This is the last time, (s)he’ll hurt you like that.
When you’ve gone two hundred miles, stop for something cool.
You’re feeling more like a woman and less like a fool…
The wind blew through my hair, carrying a hint of the fog that hunkered down over the western hills. I reached for my sunglasses and tipped my face up toward the sun. There was a cold Te Java in a cooler on the floorboards, and a handful of those fruit and nut bars we both like in the glove box. I’d knew I’d be in Santa Barbara by nightfall.
It’s sweet like candy bars and freedom.
It’s so good to feel good again.