When I am tired of taking public transportation, I walk home from work. I follow a narrow sidewalk for one mile along a busy highway. Lately, I have begun fantasizing about driving—not of going anywhere per say, but of the familiar smell of a red Ford Taurus, the dashboard littered with old receipts and the residue of stickers from children I once nannied.
Sometimes I don’t miss driving as much as I miss listening to music in my car. I miss being enclosed in sound, enjoying a private serenade on the way to work on a cold morning, my hands shaking on the steering wheel after etching away at windshield ice layers. I have not been in a car in two and a half months.
I miss the possibility of a passenger—having someone to reach a hand out to grab my mug of coffee when it is thrown from the cup holder when I stop short, which happens often. I miss having a someone who will choose a song from my iPhone when I am unsuspecting, or someone to whom I can hand the device when I am tired of making choices, a circumstance which also happens frequently.
My brother moved to New Hampshire this August for work, and I rode up with him, having found an alternate ride back to New York the next day, and hoping to spend some quality time with him before leaving for Europe. We hardly spoke for the five hour drive, but sang along to Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes and stopped at record stores and used bookshops. He broke the speed limit for almost 20 miles so that we could make it to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee for the sunset. My brother’s Jeep is old and green. It’s slow to start and smells like cigarettes. I love it.
I don’t know very much about cars. In driver’s ed in high school, I had a friend who would quiz me on car logos and what company they represented. Thanks to him, when I was a new driver and scratched a car’s bumper while attempting to park, I knew automatically from the four circle logo that it was an Audi.
My grandfather bought me my car when I turned sixteen, after promising me his El Camino for ten years, only to wake up one morning and decide I needed something a bit safer. He put a spoiler on the back to make it seem “cool.” He also attached a metal “Christian fish” decal. I never named my car. I have been known to say “Amy” when people ask, because some people ask, because some people name their possessions. I think I stopped saying anything after I heard that a friend of mine named his car Shadowfax, because I knew I could never think of anything better than that.
My little sister has my car now, while I am in Hungary. After a year of driving my mother’s Highlander, I wonder if she is remembering to manually lock the doors and turn off the lights. Perhaps she has deleted the preset for NPR, because she lives on her college campus and doesn’t understand the comfort of Morning Edition when it accompanies you on a long, dark drive to work in the early morning, whether the subject is the financial state of the nation or something more relevant, like how to make mac and cheese and brownies in a mug in the microwave.
I miss the drive from the Michigan to New York City, especially the final stretch when you cross over the Tappan Zee Bridge, the way a long time in a car makes you begin to feel restless and yet accomplished. I’ve done this trip so many times. I’ve probably spent days in Ohio, advancing through cornfields but motionless in the driver’s seat.
From the trams and trains of Budapest, I watch the city and then the suburbs shoot by. Last week I was in Italy, where I became very familiar with the TrenItalia railway lines. From these locomotives, I saw vineyards and villas and mountains. I saw houses with orange roofs and laundry hanging out to dry and old men rolling cigarettes at railway stations. From these trains, I can gaze and doze and dream. But I cannot see the road in front of me. I don’t know how fast I have been going, or for how long.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.