The red light district appears before us. blinding strip club signs provided a blurred outline to the intricate zigzags of 73. I squirm. Jeff sings along to the barely audible sounds of the radio as we passthrough his hometown. The gas station signs slowly increase in price as we approach the bridge. I light my cigarette and think that home is on the other side of that bridge for me.
I can feel the neon radiation gently creeping in and eating me up from the inside. I cannot hear anything over the engine. People walk ignorantly in silent film sequences from the strip clubs to the diner. They occupy hours on end but still cannot get to sleep.
My eyes pan slowly back to the left where the now dormant clubs lay. I can see blurred images of the features through the windows. Sounds of jazzed up allegro tunes breeze through my mind. “I’m glad the rain came and washed all the garbage off the streets,” Jeff said, interrupting the soothing music my ears fancied. I smiled politely, realizing that I never felt this want before.
It is an interesting experience to sit in a rust torn ford of decades past. The pale blue duct taped interior chafes my neck with stories of how it came to be. The original darker hued plush interior is barely noticeable under the edges of the fraying adhesive. I could never understand completely the commotion from the driver’s seat.
The static-driven radio now dominates the baritone voice of the engine as we pull into the mobil station. I sigh for the car. The atonal humming motor carried us this far with its antiquated appendages, providing a sense of comfort along with its overbearing presence. It has character, adding treble ridden reverberations to our competing voices, presenting us with a challenge and fighting back when we give it lip. But all was silent now as the engine sat still and was resuscitated once again, all but the static of local radio waves fighting their way through the massive blue persona surrounding me. The padding and insulation of the interior was gutted around the locks and the glovebox. The dashboard resembled that of a child’s toy but still managed to steady our faith. It rolled willingly along the new england highs and lows during our half day’s journey. It waited like a faithful pet on the corner when we decided to carry ourselves through the streets of new york city. In new york, we were belittled by the humbling buildings and felt minuscule under the gargantuan billboards featuring lifelike giants in perfect proportion wearing clothes more expensive than the car itself. The engine was muted under these buildings, showing it was humbled as well. Walking along the maddening chaos of the street sproved more and more disheartening the further north we walked. It made me want for the flickering lights and overpowering hum of a car twice my age.
Now I could feel solace in the car couch that swallowed me as I curled into a ball around it. I shut the radio off. It could not fill the void the static engine left for us. “Is the air free?” I heard Jeff ask as he ran his index finger over the mud-coated windows. I realized he was always looking for something free. Throughout our entire trip he scammed free meals because there always seemed “to be a hair” in his food. I wasn’t exactly sure if I pitied or envied him. He was following his heart. He recently quit his job for self-employment and was “content with the moment under the vast indifference of the sky,” just like Camus said.
I watched Jeff squeegee his hairline-fractured windshield. The freezing-water-formed snowflake like patterns along the window cracks in front of me, as the wind blew into the car. The padding that held the windows in place was missing. The windows swayed back and forth in the fierce winter wind of the northeast. I feared the windshield cracking like a shallow frozen lake. The tape blew back and forth as the wind willed. It never stuck to the car. Nothing ever stuck just right with Jeff either. I wondered what sort of decadent past he had. I wondered what it would have been like to be Tim and see him grow up. (Tim, Jeff’s boyhood best friend, left us back in Boston to spend the week with his woman.) I remembered Tim getting witty with Jeff on the way up. Jeff seemed to take it to heart. He responded by saying “and my parents died when I was ten. Do you want to make fun of that too?” I could never tell when Jeff was being sarcastic ornot. Regardless, this statement begged a lot of questions from me.
Were Jeff’s parents still alive? Was his father loafing around the west coast, riding boxcars with five dollar bottles of whiskey, huddling himself in fleeting memories of a less broken home? The past was something about which you could never just ask.
Jeff always reminded me of dean moriarity. His self-acceptance and revelations appeared to be his hamartia. There was always something bruised about his innocent smile that I could never put my finger on.
This car provided the perfect backdrop for the dean comparison. I could picture Jeff driving endless nights in this mechanical representation of himself. He would be heading down the shore, or wherever the car decided they could make it. I could picture him going out of his way for anyone as he was for me this night.
It’s almost romantic to think of Jeff coasting downhill with the engine shut off and three friends relaxing happily drunk in the backseat; three am drives with only the purpose of escaping the madness that still awaits him at home.
I wonder about the history of the car and how many pointless journeys this car has made. Where was the car from? Was it a constant reminder of his family? Did it tell stories of Jeff in a baby seat being driven to the pediatrician? Has the car seen more of the country than i have? have I ever passed it on the road before, or seen it broken down in the shoulder? Or worse, were the locks gutted because it was stolen? There was always an air of mystery that surrounded Jeff. This also lead to the reasoning that sat me in the passenger seat. I couldn’t always explain why I was there or what was going to happen next and that’s what I liked about this Ford and everything it carried with it. I was always questioning the questions and never could quite make it to th eanswers in this scenario.
I still remain with my feet off the ground, hands outstretch my pockets in search of a quarter for the air machine. I give the quarter to Jeff. He is now breathing new life into the tar-melted tires as he probably has done countless Times before. My spoon-fed mouth feels empty as I recollect my wrinkled clothes and traffic jam worries. I wonder if Jeff is internally streamlined clockwork. when he closes his eyes, does his world crumble in thed arkness? Is it really ignorance that drives him forth? someTimes It maybe as basic as realizing he has no other option.
My eyes panned left again. When I looked over, the bright signs began to come into focus. I could read the strip club signs and understand the shelter from desperation between the lines. Jeff handed over the money he had in his pocket to the gas station attendant. Both partie swere satisfied. He toggled the door handle and entered the car.
The ride continued with nothing more noteworthy than the fleeting clarity of radio waves. My oneiric side streets were hindered as the engine returned to full bloom. Again the competition for control arose. Jeff merely sang along to the fuzz.
After the car pulled in front of my house, Jeff replenished the radiator fluid of the aging transport. I thanked him for the ride and bid the car farewell. The car let out a loud roar as I walked into my suburban domicile. I looked outside from the window to make sure everything was alright. After the car rolled away, it’s personality was still clear and ever-present in my mind’s eye. The custom details of both interior and exterior meant something much different to Jeff than it did to me. It did not matter whether the car was stolen or the radio was unclear. The absence of Jeff’s family is obviously a result of something that happened in the past. The holes can only be patched up. If the engine roared when it moved, it was still making forward progress and I was the one depending on a ride.