One of the best drives I ever took was a drive out to the east end of Long Island. The drive was taken with no reason, no one with me, no destination in mind and with no time frame to go, continue, or turn around and come back home. I had a full tank of gas, which was good because I had very little money. All I had was half a pack of Camel Light Wides—they were the thick ones, which are the same as other cigarettes; only these were thicker in girth instead of longer in length like the 100 brands. I’m not sure if they sell these anymore—but if I were to ever go back to the habit, these are the ones I would smoke.
I had somewhere around 20 bucks in my pocket and a few cassette tapes to sink in the tape deck in the dashboard of my beat-up, blue, 1984 four-door Chevy Celebrity.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been an early riser. That is, unless I went out the night before, and even then, depending upon the hour I came in; I was always an early riser.
Some nights, I would come home after a late night in the city and the sun would be on its way. I could see the eastern sky in the distance as it began to warm the dark horizon with a band of orange color. And I’d think to myself, “hat a wonderful idea it would be to just drive off.”
“Keep going,” I’d say to myself, “And see where I end up.”
One morning, and somewhat newly single, I found myself awake as usual, lying in bed while the sun came up, and wondering to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”
Instead of asking myself again, I decided to get up and go. And rather than stand in the middle of my bedroom, dressed in the same clothes as the night before, bantering back and forth with myself about whether I should drive off and go or stay where I was—I got up and went.
My car was far from the quiet kind. After the key switched, the ignition turned, and the engine grumbled in a deep loud “Ba—room-room-room” kind of sound, which I’m sure the neighbors hated.
I was in the middle of a new transition. My first real attempt at a girlfriend had crashed and burned. It had crashed long before this and that was apparent when she called me by another man’s name; however, I was needy and afraid to be alone, so rather than adjust and move on; I cheated on her the same way she cheated ion me and rationalized the reasons why we stayed together.
As for my family, my mother had moved away not long ago. My brother had opened up a new chapter in his life, embarking on this thing they call marriage. And I myself was young and confused. I was somewhere around the age of 21 years. My life was ahead of me and I was unsure what that meant.
Instead of thinking too deeply or allow the melancholy its place; I decided to drive off. I put the car in reverse. A slight squeak came from the fan belts in my car. It was certainly very noisy—the car, I mean. It was noisy and unattractive—but the car drove from one place to another. It got me from here to there.
And sure, the headliner sagged. The speedometer didn’t move, nor did the odometer with more than 116.000 miles on. And sure, the “Check Engine” light was always on and the windshield had a crack. The blue fabric seats were stained from God only knows what; the stereo was hardly clear and not loud enough, and if I wasn’t careful the tape deck would sometimes eat my cassette tapes—but it all worked for the most part.
The heat worked and so did the air-conditioning. The backseat worked well for one-night stands and so did the front bench seat on occasions.
The trunk was big enough to hide a body, which fortunately, there was no reason for something like that. And the snow was never a threat to me. The car was beaten but faithful and I, although less than kind on the gas pedal and necessary repairs, I loved that car because it was there for me on mornings like this one.
Pulling out of my driveway onto a quiet wide street on the edge of Garden City, I spun the wheel and pointed the front of my car towards the east. I pulled down the lever at the steering column, putting the car in drive, and then in a loud vanishing grumble, I drove away from home without any thought, direction, or destination in mind.
I drove away without thinking about the social surroundings I found myself in. I was not thinking about you, or anyone else. I was not thinking about the draws of money or how I always felt as if I had less than everyone else.
I did not think about these things because I did not think at all. I found myself comfortably slipped into a strange sense of awareness; and I mean this in the sense that I was aware of my surroundings; I was aware of when to break and when to place my foot on the gas.
I knew when to switch lanes, when to speed up and when to slow down. I knew these things but yet I was comfortable not to think about anyone or anything else.
I was comfortable to forget about the disdainful thoughts and comfortable enough to forget about the complications of girlfriends or the so-called “Friends with benefits” who in truth, seemed less beneficial to me. Instead, I resigned to be me and comfortable to drive quietly through an early winter morning without the concern for any other opinion.
Heading south on the Meadowbrook Parkway with sounds from The Pink Floyd playing over the radio, I found the exit and went east on the Southern State Parkway. I had been this way before. The sun was coming up but the storm clouds left the heavens with a wintry gray look to it, which to me, I always interpreted the gray clouds to resemble the gray, cottony beard of God the Father. And though this was a touch sad in view, there was something beautiful about this trip.
I was not bewildered or mad. I was not hinged upon you or what you said about me. Above all, I was not thinking about you, life, or any of the pressures that came with being a young man and growing up in a strange time.
It became clear to me that I took this drive to get away. I wanted to remove myself from the opinions of others, which I allowed to wear me down. I thought about my hate and the reasons behind it. I thought about my prejudices and wondered where they came from.
I was curious why I surrendered my own will and gave into the inaccurate versions of hate. And it was here that I realized that I am not a product of my environment. And as for my hate, envy, my jealousy, and my defects of character; I realized I am more a product of my own weakness than a product of my environment. I am a product of my insecurity. I realized that I am a product of my fears. I was afraid to be alone. I was afraid to fail so I would put down or shit on those who were around me. This way, I could gain control, I was a womanizer. This way, I could keep from being hurt and excuse the fact that I was done wrong. I was lied to and worse, I was called by another man’s name while in the act of passion.
I was afraid I would always feel alone. Rather than stand my ground and feel brave enough to be myself, I chose to become a product of my fear and surrendered myself instead of empowering myself to be as I wanted to be. As I saw it, I took this drive to be the antithesis of the person I allowed myself to become. As I saw it, I took this drive to be free.
And while driving alone, I was fine to be as I was. I was fine to be driving in my shitty car—a cigarette dangling from my mouth, music playing over the radio; you were not around, nor were anyone else. There was no one to impose or interrupt me. There was no one to interfere with my thought process and there was no pressure to impress anyone. All I had to do was drive—and that was all I wanted.
Heading east, I drove through the summer towns on the Hampton’s, which seemed quietly hibernating, empty, and without the crowds of summer. Same as the towns were empty, so was the beach—and I thought to myself, “I know how they feel.”
People are like that sometimes. They only pay attention when the sun is shining, and all is beautiful, but when the clouds come—they tend to forget that the beauty still exists.
I found a small place to pull over. I ordered a bowl of French onion soup, sat down at a dark wooden table with a purple cloth partially covering the tabletop. There was w a white paper place mat in front of me, a spoon, a fork, and a butter knife. The waitress asked, “You’re not from around here are you?”
“No,” I answered politely.
“I didn’t think so,” she said.
Finishing my soup, I slurped the last spoonful, thanked the woman kindly and tipped generously but not too much to appear as if I splurged to impress.
I loaded back into my car, turned the key, and again the loud “Ba-room-room-room” from the engine blasted out from the muffler and I drove home without thinking as if my body knew its way without the need for my input.
Years later and here I am . . .
I was thinking about this drive throughout the course of my day. I was thinking about the opinions of others, which have no business in my life. I don’t want to allow anyone their say in what I do or whether I move forward. I don’t ever want my decisions to be hinged on the treatment or approval of someone else. Moreover, I don’t ever want to allow someone to intimidate me away from my dreams.
As I see it, the world is filled with different people and opinions. Not everyone gets along and not all opinions are fact. An opinion is a point of view. And I need to separate myself from this. In fact, I need to separate myself from people that believe their opinions are facts and if my opinions differ, then somehow, I am either wrong or more recently; I have become a newfound enemy for believing something else.
All I know is I could use a nice long drive, some good music, and a nice hot bowl of French onion soup, served to me by a kind older lady with a smile and a friendly wave as I walk out of the door . . .