I shouldn’t have chosen Route 24 last night. It was just after midnight, the window when I make a lot of bad navigation decisions. The drivers on this route are a frantic and unpredictable breed. Their erratic behavior forces me to mirror their actions. My car slips up to seventy, but this lane has seen faster devils. We motorists don’t know each other. . . we just want to go home. I sometimes think of Robert Frost, for I too have “miles to go before I sleep.”
Route 24 is not the easiest of highways. The on- and off-ramps are too short for comfort but nobody slows down to make them. This is where teens race to make curfew and drunks creep across the triple lanes. I once heard a rumor about a biker gang that roams this stretch of pavement on bikes that aren’t exactly street-legal. I saw my first car fire on Route 24. But I choose this highway because I think I can get home faster, avoiding the potholes of suburban streets and their scattering of intersections. There’s something wrong about that logic.
I can deal with steel and asphalt and velocity and fatigue. I just can’t deal with the endless highway. After midnight, the brain runs parallel to your motor functions. Doubt becomes a prickly feeling. You have mixed feelings about tail lights. On a lonely road, they welcome you like the bulbs on a Christmas tree. In a city tunnel, they’re like pits of angry fire.
I also start to over-analyze every passing vehicle. One of them is an older Jaguar in good condition. It rides low to the ground and I wonder what the driver has stowed in the trunk. The Jag’s engine was crafted by European masters and she cruises easily at 75 m.p.h. Why do I feel jealous of his stability? Why would I feel safer in the Jaguar than my own car?
Memory kicks in as you glance at the exit signs. I haven’t driven this late for years. I remember my younger self heading home after visiting my girlfriend, dropping the windows to feel the air on my face. It never helped to keep me awake. A cup of coffee from the gas station really isn’t coffee, not from the machine that served it to you, but a weak placebo for the last ten miles. I habitually scan the radio but find nothing worth listening to after midnight.
I’ll get home tonight, I remind myself. Instinct is the only thing you want to trust in your later years. Instinct is a proprietary knowledgebase of experience that can save you from all the creepy things around your car and in your head. Thankfully, I clear my mind and loosen my grip on the wheel. I’ll watch out for the sharp exit and the tailgaters. I’ll yield the fast lane to the Kamikazes and the Troopers that follow them. I’ll get home tonight, and I’ll wake up tomorrow to write about it.