In general, I don’t mind driving. I can’t drive stick (I know, I know), and I don’t get super-worked up by traffic unless I’m already on edge. I don’t mind improvising on routes, certainly not since I’ve gotten a smart phone (holy crap, does that make “improvised routes” easier).
One of my secret joys once was to drive home, alone, late at night, with no one else on the roads. It’s a quiet moment amidst a life that doesn’t have it, especially driving in Calgary.
I think I’ve come to enjoy driving much more now that I’m not playing taxi. Also, I’ve discovered being alone in the car is less appealing when you spent the majority of your time alone commuting to and from work. If you’re just driving weekends, there’s a little less sameness to it.
For your consumption, five brief reflections, about people who’ve crossed my path, and rode shotgun with me. As per policy, no names, and impressions are my own. Timelines are various.
She didn’t drive with me often. Even more rarely, alone. We were friends, more dear as the years have gone by. But I would have driven her home anytime, because she wouldn’t abuse the privilege. This was something of a paradox, but one that worked.
It wasn’t a long drive to her house. Quiet, mixed with conversation, which may have seemed strange, to those that know her. She was bright and bubbly and outgoing in a lot of ways, a counter to my quiet. But I always admired her.
She asked about my writing, at one point. I told her I was careful not to mention names (how meta is this getting?), though she made the salient point that one could discern who I was talking about, and that there was more meaning for those who knew, and could relate.
The writing was therapy for me, and her admitting the knowledge was as well. She knew my struggle, and appreciated it, and didn’t press further. I’d just gotten out of a relationship, and had played it close to the vest, save for some emotional meandering I’d posted about. As warm and kind a person as I’ve met, but still sensitive to my desire: to express my struggle in writing. I was glad for others who could relate to it.
We arrived at her home, there were people inside already, playing games. She offered me the choice to come in and join them. I paused, and considered it. I could have used the release, but my emotions were still roiling inside. Our conversation had brought them to the surface, and her sympathy, even silent, was almost too much. I couldn’t deal with it. The others inside, wouldn’t know that I was struggling, but she DID.
“Or not,” she said. She’d seen my hesitation, and written it off as refusal. She may have been correct, though perhaps not for why she’d thought.
I drove home, wondering for a while if I should have gone in, if the familiar routines of button mashing and trash talking would have provided comfort. Or would it have been strange to do those things, with my own conflict close to the surface, so recently explored in our travel?
“I want to burn down all the churches.”
Those were the first words I heard from him, walking into the back several weeks into my first job. ‘Yeah,’ I thought, wryly. ‘This was going to go well.’
He was to be my partner on the evening shift, no fewer than four days a week, for the next few months. Conversation, connection, was inevitable if it was going to work.
Despite our conflicting beliefs, we were similar: both wannabe programmers, both having seen social life from the outside, more familiar with working from the periphery than from the popular. I clung to that fiercely. Whether it was the belief in connection or my own desire to avoid conflict that drove it, it happened. 8 hours a day, 4 times a week was tolerable, even enjoyable. He had perspectives and beliefs I’d never even considered. I’d lived a sheltered life.
We talked about everything. 32 hours a week together gives you that chance. Life, school, philosophy, religion, people, why we think the way we do. Even on opposing sides, I found a thoughtful person who wanted to express his frustration with things, and someone who had experiences I never could. He found someone patient, who would listen, present his beliefs without judging, and tried to accept him as he was. My words were fewer, but over time, we came to a respect.
I drove him home sometimes, on the days I had my mother’s Civic, since he was close by, and didn’t have a car.
I remember one winter day, our occasional laughs as the car’s defroster got warmed up, and I fiddled with dials until it did what we wanted it to. I barely knew the car. He didn’t have one. More in common, there.
Our conversations at work continued here, though without the pressure of donuts and coffee pushing them to the periphery. It was strange, the kinship I felt with him. How could we both have come from the periphery, and ended up so opposite in views? Who had hurt him so, that he felt this want to lash out?
“Still want to burn down the churches,” he commented, just before I dropped him off. “Except yours.”
It wasn’t much. Abating assumed pyromania by one building wasn’t, ultimately, a huge deal. But then, it was enough.
She and I spent a lot of time in the car together. Out to dinner, window shopping, to a theatre, back to her place.
It was in these conversations, that I felt like it was going to be right, that it was going to work. And other times, in stony silence, when the doubts came back, and past failures became more clear and nagging. The car rides comfortable, or awkward, depending on our states of mind.
Maybe we were too similar, too quiet, uncertain about our place in the universe. I fell hard for her, and didn’t know how to deal with it. That’s easy for me to say now. It wasn’t then.
She loved music, and enjoyed singing. I would plug in the iPod, and I would silently appreciate when we found a song she knew, and would sing, quietly, getting louder and more confident when she knew the tune. She would pull back when she was uncertain, or it went in a different direction than she expected.
My collection of “live” songs made that a common occurrence. She preferred the studio versions, the production, the performance. I liked the live ones, the atmosphere, the energy of them. Was that a hint? Or a result of a greater divide that we already had?
A more apt analogy, perhaps, was found when the music went to something she’d never heard: I wanted to hear her voice, but I couldn’t make her sing.
We have our best conversations in the car, sometimes.
It’s hard to know why. We’ve known each other our whole lives, and there’s no shortage of opportunities for conversation. We think so similarly, have similar taste, approach things in the same way. Why would we need to talk? I already know what he’s thinking.
We play up the difference- well, I do. I prefer prodding and working the edges, getting a smile or a laugh, and he dutifully plays the straight man, though apparently he’s a riot when I’m not around.
But I remember the car rides, so many occasions together. The conversations would flow there, without an audience. They covered everything: the (ultimately) meaningless interpersonal drama of high school, played out ad infinitum; the struggles of relationships and relating, so many shared problems; and now, the business of adults, of groceries and housework and things that need to be done.
It happens less now. I feel sad for that, in some ways, happy in others. It is an inevitability of life: as we move into the adult world and strike our place, I know our lives will continue to be more different, and I will see him less.
In public, the words are few, a glance or a head nod, terse and quiet, revealing little. I remember occasions where he and I would step away from a crowd, and it always seemed to attract attention. Were we plotting? Was there something there? I’d never really thought so.
People often wonder if we talk, he and I. We have, for so many years. There’s always more, waiting for the next time either of us starts the car.
If there’s one thing that driving has taught me, it’s the value of being able to find another route. To improvise, as it were.
Friday is my latest day of the week, which makes post-work plans a tenuous idea. I had thought of that before planning the evening with her, but had hoped that our meticulously timed night out would work fine. She would meet me close to my work for dinner and a show, in some order.
As it turned out, neither of us got off work when we expected, making my initial plan, already tight in its timing, unworkable. I’d gotten off work first, and we exchanged messages. Her workday had not gone well, and she hadn’t yet left. We were going to be late.
The plan had changed- I started for home, after promising to still buy dinner once she’d gotten out, and salvage something out of an evening that was already going to be reduced by the responsibilities of adulthood.
I soon heard back: She was on the way home on the train. I suggested we meet at her place instead, a short time later.
I drove alone, from the branch I work in the north, feeling the empty space beside me. The evening would start later, but that was fine. Though I’d have barely enough time to go home and change and…
The light came on, as I drove. Time to improvise again. I stopped to get gas, and typed back: “Slight tweak: Will meet you at the station. Let me know when you get off the train.”
She responded, and I smiled. A change for the better, this time.
I had a few minutes, reflecting on the quick change of our planned night: From anticipation to uncertainty back to being excited again as I waited for her. We wouldn’t get everything done we’d wanted to, but the late work had, oddly, taken some stress out of the evening. After a long day, maybe that worked better.
Practically, there wasn’t a ton of difference. I saved her a short walk, and myself the task of driving home, changing, and then driving back. Some gas, some time, maybe. I’d still have a tie. Which the ladies like, apparently, so that probably worked out better.
I pulled up, spotting her out of the crowd, unlocking the passenger side door as she walked towards the car. I’d had enough driving alone for one day.