There's an unavoidable affinity between suburban teens and automobiles. I'm no exception; I tolerate air travel. I enjoy trains and boats. But I am absolutely reliant upon the experience of driving. I love to drive, and I was an absolute addict in high school. There were drives on Sunday, drives after school and long drives in the summer. There was driving at night. I would take my car South, as the houses gave way to farms and gravel roads, bean fields and dead trees and old barns and men with guns. I would stop and look around. I would circle back and enjoy the same sight from behind. I would take myself North, along the highway and then down an unfamiliar exit, into a dim deserted street with no sound and wind that makes your ears hurt with cold and noise. The windows down and the heater on. I would stop and eat. I would get lost. I would drive until I was tired, stop and sleep. I would read signs out loud and sing. My stereo was alive- speakers cut in and out at will, and the volume was never constant. The music was ragged and loud.
My car was a decaying Volkswagon of middle age, a transitional vehicle that didn't know if it was a sedan or a sports car or a piece of junk. Every piece of equipment was voluntary, was provisional, was optional-- the clutch was as likely to work as the power windows. It had survived water, heat, cold, and time. It was more this way- it broke down so often and in so many ways I couldn't see it as monolithic, but as a series of parts that only fit loosely together. The dashboard was like a Watts tower of plastic and lights, cobbled together, solid but cracking and full of memory and with a living mass underneath. The trunk was a smorgasbord of past events- I could play guitar or put on a hat or change a tire.
This was not a tool of independence-- or rather, not solely. It was a tool of community, a facilitator of conversation. More importantly, when stopping for long behemoth trains or turning the lights off and looking at the sky or hearing the gravel crunch and the engine as the only sound for miles, it was a constant reminder of the size of the world in relation to this capsule of velocity, the fact that horizons always exist everywhere.