In the past week, I’ve driven more miles more quickly that I probably every have in my life. My friends love my 2001 Honda Accord for its passenger’s seat, which somehow seems to recline into a psychologist’s couch just when life is getting crazy. Between avoiding eavesdropping siblings during high school (theirs, not mine – I’m an only child) and avoiding roommates in college, my car has always been the one reliable, private, insulated space for conversation.
Driving alone has always provided solace as well. I have the often embarrassing habit of talking to myself when I’m trying to work through some thought or keep track of what’s on my to do list. This has attracted some judgmental stares; contrary to popular belief, people actually can usually tell whether or not you’re on speakerphone. I sing a lot too, often hitting some terrible notes as I try to teach myself how to harmonize. Regardless, the mechanical rhythm of manual transition is tactile, reassuring. The specific feel of my car turning and encountering bumps in the road differs from everyone else’s. I’ve come and gone from U. Va. so many times in the past year, driving home for work or breaks, and my car has been the constant home throughout all of the transitions.
I’ve been on summer break for less than a week, and here’s the breakdown of my travels so far:
- Charlottesville to Leesburg, 109 miles:
After my finals ended, after I worked at my new job for two days, after I packed up my things, after I cleared the last of the trash out of my apartment, and after I turned in my keys, I finally began my drive home. My car was comfortably full of clothes, food, and breakables – like after a solid lunch rather than stuffed from a Thanksgiving feast. The drive was even longer than 109 miles because I somehow missed a turn and ended up on business 29 instead of the bypass, which was weird considering how often I’ve made the trip. I ended up on an isolated back road, yelling at my MapQuest app in a hunger-induced rage when it almost caused me to miss a turn. (“I’m counting on you! You’re all I have!”) The bizarre twist of events left me unfortunately grouchy, so my homecoming was more snarky than sentimental, which I’m sure my parents didn’t appreciate but it is what it is. Next time will be better.
- Leesburg to George Mason University, 38.2 miles: A few months before Billy’s graduation, I messaged a few of his friends to ask what music things they like. Music is kind of a black hole; there are so many recording and instrument accessories on the market that you could literally spend all of your money and not even make a dent in the list of equipment you feel you could benefit from – it’s something you have to invest in over time, gradually accumulating useful things that improve recordings. I speak from observation rather than experience, hence my need to ask people who actually record what a good gift could be. Someone suggested an interface to go with Billy’s recording software, so on Tuesday I drove out to Guitar Center in Fairfax to pick it up. Guitar Center was surprisingly depressing: A squat concrete building, windowless, and full of confused-looking parents carrying keyboard stands and scratching their heads in front of amps. After picking up Billy’s gift, I circled through Fairfax until I eventually found George Mason University. Fairfax is a disaster, a perfect storm of traffic, strip malls, and high speed limits – everything that is bad about NoVa – so finding GMU was stressful. Once there, I met up with my friend Brooke, a Floridian who moved to my high school during senior year and who helped me survive AP Statistics. She also got me my first waitressing job; I was a terrible waitress but I enjoyed seeing how a restaurant functions. Brooke is sarcastic, insightful, beautiful, and formerly nerdy; my favorite story from her middle school days involves her running home from the bus stop, fumbling with a saxophone case that was a big as she was in the style of Lisa Simpson. Today, she uses her powers of observation for storytelling and Facebook stalking. She took me on a tour of GMU, which is basically a bubble in the middle of Fairfax featuring a goose pond, a dining hall, dorms, and academic buildings. Brooke introduced me to her friends, funnel cake fries, and Gossip Girl, and then I headed home, retracing the 38.2 miles again.
- Leesburg to Purcellville, 15.2 miles: I grew up in Purcellville, a quiet town that was once connected to Washington, D.C., only by the railroad. Purcellville is growing rapidly: a bank has sprouted in the empty lot where I parked my car in the 11th grade and they just got a Sweet Frog. For most people, coming home from college means reconnecting with the landscape they used to inhabit; since I moved to Leesburg literally the day before my high school graduation, Purcellville has been the nostalgic landscape I left behind even though it’s no longer my home. The first thing I want to do when I’m back from school is head to the Purcellville Family Restaurant for a Greasy Diner Breakfast (GDB).
The food is cheap, the portions are large, and they have the best pancakes and corned beef hash I’ve ever tasted. I met up with Campbell, my lively high school friend who now attends James Madison University. Per usual, we bemoaned weight gained and money lost, caught each other up on the details of our lives, and eventually migrated back to Cam’s house to play with her cat and tan (read: burn) in the sun. On my way out of town, I surprised myself by stopping at my high school. I generally don’t visit my high school, but my teacher/mentor-turned-friend Paige teaches newspaper there, and I hadn’t seen her all year. Paige’s age will always be a mystery to me; she’s an energetic Brown graduate whose career took her through grant writing, two masters programs, and countless surprising adventures. Her support and guidance led me to admit first to myself, and then to others, that I wanted to pursue a writing career. We rounded up the rest of the editorial team and spent the evening eating Greek food at a local deli and talking about classes and books.
- Leesburg to Lexington, 167 miles:
The Mysterious Production of Eggs floated through my Accord’s speakers as the 7:00 a.m. sun beat down on Virginia’s rolling hills. I was on the way to watch my dear friend Billy finally graduate from Virginia Military Institute after four painstaking years. I met Billy the summer before my freshman year of high school at a guitar camp. During his first two years at VMI, we spent evenings typing Facebook messages back and forth, flashes of intrigue in cyberspace that eventually became cautious coffee dates and then, when I matriculated to U.Va., a steadier relationship. As a friend and later as a girlfriend, I’ve been lucky enough to be with Billy throughout the whole VMI experience. As I sat with his family in the stands, I marveled at the changes we’d experienced since those early conversations and felt every emotion that I’d encountered in the last four years rise up inside me like so many ocean waves – rise, wash over, recede again. Happiness won out over all of them.
- Lexington to Leesburg, 167 miles: Rain splattered on my windshield as I switched between first and neutral in traffic, snacking on peanut M&Ms and Coke Zero, and just like that, I was on my way home again – no longer dating a college student but an alumnus. So far, it hasn’t seemed too different. I believe things will feel new and strange when he doesn’t have a school to return to in the fall, but everything will seem strange anyway since I’ll be in Scotland. So it goes.
- Leesburg, 8.6 miles: The distance between my house and Billy’s. It’s a drive I’ve made hundreds of times in the past two years, almost daily in the summer – sometimes rushing to be home in time for dinner, sometimes lost in thought or in a song. I’ve encountered deer and rabbits, ghost-like police cars lurking with radar guns poised, phone calls, 7-11s, and more in between our two houses. It’s a cycle, a routine commute, with good destinations on either end.
This is just one sliver of the 190,000+ miles on my car – some from my dad’s commutes to work before I inherited it, some from my various travels. This summer promises miles and miles of driving and so many more conversations.