“I’m just waiting for my Google car,” I say to him.
“You mean those cars that drive themselves.”
“I was thinking about this recently. They’d be the death of Mad Max. The freedom to just drive wherever you want. Cops can just stop your car. You can’t keep going. You aren’t in control,” he said.
And then I get in my car, the one I have to drive myself. The one that needs a key that only I have. The car that needs me to turn on the ignition, step on the gas, and steer the wheel.
I should go home, but I’m not ready, so I head downtown to run an errand that only half-needs to be done, an errand I know can’t be fulfilled because of the traffic and the parking. I am stalling for more time in my little tin can oasis of freedom.
You know, I cried for two hours straight the first time I took my driver’s test and failed right after my sixteenth birthday. My mom had made the appointment for the first thing in the morning, so that I could still make most of my sophomore year classes. I had hoped to drive myself to school later that day, but I ended up getting the woman at the DMV everyone warned me about; the woman who made me drive in the construction zone and pulled my emergency brake twice. Afterward, my mom took me for deli, but I could not eat. I was heartbroken at the thought of facing my friends, telling them I’d failed, and waiting two whole weeks to try again, when I would earn the most significant piece of paper I have ever received.
The thing is, I’ve always been independent to a fault, not always asking for help when I needed it. My license, the cars I’ve had, and the the freedom I have had for almost half of my life have been my greatest gift, my deepest solace, and my darkest vice.
I’ve had seven cars. One I parked in senior parking, one I totaled, one my parents totaled, one that had over 200,000 miles, one whose passenger door wouldn’t open, one I drove to Denver and back, and one I bought myself.
When I was 18-years-old, my friend Katelyn and I were driving around Long Beach, one of the only things you can do when you’re on the cusp of adulthood but still stuck as a kid. Another car with two boys our age pulled up next to us on the road. Follow us to a party, they said. So we did. It was an apartment party full of college kids. I politely baby-sipped a warm spiked cola drink while talking to people who felt like incredibly mature 20 year olds as they smoked joints. Katelyn was in a corner talking very closely with a boy who was making googly eyes at her. No surprise, Katelyn was beautiful. When we both realized that we weren’t quite ready for this kind of party, we left. I drove us both home.
Later that year, I drove two and a half hours just to see a guy. Just to get a speeding ticket. Just to get in a serious car wreck. Just to total my new car. Just to have him never really care about me.
A few years back, I checked my phone at a stop sign to find a suggestive text from my long-term boyfriend, something I should have been happy to receive. I started sobbing. I was so unhappy, teetering on the edge of my breaking point. Never having felt more trapped, I put on the sad music my best friend teases me about. You only listened to the most depressing shit in the car she says, and she’s right.
I have a hard time tapping into my emotions most of the time. The strong and silent type sometimes have a Hello Kitty air freshener hanging on their rear view mirror. But in the car, I’m free to be vulnerable to the stereo, the road, and myself.
I keep so busy I rarely have a minute. In the car I can make the calls I always mean to make and give the people who deserve the most, the attention I barely I have.
The traffic, the traffic people complain about. Unless you’re in hurry, or late, there’s something monotonously soothing about the stillness of traffic. The stop and go becomes hypnotic and the warmth of the car makes your mind mush in a delicious, lazy way. Fantasies creep into my head and onto my mouth as it curves into a smile.
And sometimes I think about the things I never let myself think. The dark things, the bad things, the things that nice people don’t like to admit they think.
Despite it being a cool LA 65 degrees outside, the heat blasts from the vents and the heaviness of my thoughts hang in the circulating car air as I drive around, making turns and thinking things until I’m ready to come home.
I pull into my parking spot, turn off the engine, and sit in the moment for a long breath. I get out, slam the door, and leave everything in the car. I’ll be back for it tomorrow.