essays

Whatever Happened to Driving Nowhere?

22 cent gasWhen we were really desperate to drive somewhere, anywhere, we would pry out the back seat of the Mercury to look for loose change. In the bowels of the strange brown matting beneath the seat we would find nickels, dimes, pennies, and every now and then, a precious quarter. It may not sound like much now, but gas was 22 cents a gallon in those days, so 50 cents bought us some quality time on the back roads of New England.

We could take the old MG out by the reservoir and watch the beams of light from the headlights bounce off the rows and rows of pine trees that made up the watershed. After midnight, with the top down, all we could hear was the roar of the wind and the purr of the motor. Long straight roads were our late night entertainment as we pushed the MG to see just how fast it could go. The speedometer hit sixty, seventy, eighty, and sometimes ninety before the lights of an oncoming car would force us to click off the high-beams and ease off the accelerator.

Other teenagers parked at “the plaza” and went from car to car, making up lies about who was having sex and who wasn’t, which “good girls” really weren’t good girls, and countless other topics of absolutely no importance that whiled away their time. We, on the headlights in woodsother hand, had to be on the move. The whole point of having a car was to be in it, to be one with it, and to always, always keep moving. Could we make it to the border of the next state and back on less than half a tank of gas? It’s not as hard as it sounds in a region of small states, but it was about the adventure. We tested our driving skill and teenage luck.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how invulnerable we thought we were. It never occurred to us that you might lose control of an Oldsmobile Starfire doing 110 m.p.h. out on the interstate. All we knew back then was that our instincts were telling us to get out on the highway and drive.

Whatever happened to driving nowhere? Four dollar per gallon gas would be one answer, but maybe computers and video games provide a vicarious (and safer) sense of escapism. Besides, cars have become so complex that we no longer understand how they operate, and where’s the romance of that?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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