The lyrics here, not in lyrical order and sometimes butchered for lack of my having a copy of the song, are from a song titled the same as this node, by Bob Seger. I have heard the song before but the first time it had any meaning to me was when I heard it on the long road trip to New Orleans from Strasburg, Virginia, four years ago. I was at the wheel for most of the trip, and most of the trip was at night. Days before, I went with my ex's parents to pick him up from the airport; he had moved here six months prior with his college buddy and left me behind to finish my degree. Nights before, I found out, through underhanded means I admit, that he had cheated on me while we were apart. It took us some nights to fathom that, but in the end I caved in and forgave him, desiring only to get to New Orleans, to see a new city, and try to make this failing relationship work.

The drive was maniacal and rampant as we tried to talk through things and how things between us would never be the same. Not just because of the infidelity, but because we had changed. I would find out only months later that we were incompatible, but on that drive, I was sick with hope, hope that I knew would eventually fail me.

We crept through the night in my '87 Impala, weighted down with all the computer geek gear Gage had left behind, and some of my things as well. And this song came on. The blue from the radio was the only thing that illuminated our faces. He slept along the way, and I peered into the night, constantly searching for the white dotted lines to guide me, earnestly seeking the right exits. For a moment, when the song came on the radio, I felt like I could relate to old Bob.

some lines have been omitted so I could make my points

Well you walk into a restaurant
Strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
As you're shaking off the cold
You pretend it doesn't bother you
But you just want to explode

All those same old clichés
Is that a woman or a man?
You always seem outnumbered
You don't dare make a stand

You get those moments, whether you're at a Denny's or a gas station, where you can't help but feel out of place because unless you go to one regularly, the people who work there don't know you and seldom care if they don't. The regulars are keeping close watch on their crosswords or their slowly emptying mug of coffee, or their distorted reflections in the mirror. They almost wince when they hear laughter, as though they came here for the right reasons and you didn't. You may have come to get out of the house, but you feel that they come here to get out of their lives.

Out there in the spotlight
You're a million miles away
Every ounce of energy
You try to give away
As the sweat pours from your body
Like the music that you play

I have never been on a stage or performed for any crowd for any reason, but we have all been on a stage playing a role for an audience. We have all flinched in the poorly tailored suit of other people's expectations, some of which we've fed through our own indifference or indecision. We've all been isolated by what others would kindly consider our gifts, even if they never realized what burdens they can become.

Later in the evening
As you lie awake in bed
With the echo from the amplifiers
Ringing in your head
You've smoked the day's last cigarette
Remembering what she said

Ah, the reflective moment at home, staring at the ceiling, thinking. Ayn Rand wrote in her book Atlas Shrugged that "when a man thinks, there's a spot of fire alive in his mind." Sometimes, if we allow it, that fire can consume our lives, while we are only left with our thoughts, and that is a terrifying place to be. Even if you know tomorrow might be different, that there is still a future to strive toward, you are still only left with the night to think it over.

chorus
Well here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playing the star again
There I go
Turn the page

Here I go.

Melany and I spent the morning before I left in her room at her parents' house. She made breakfast and we nibbled at the meal she'd prepared after she and I made love for the final time. For a long while I just sat at the end of the bed with Melany in my lap facing me, her legs enclosed around my waist as if she was holding on for dear life. Damned if she almost didn't make me changed my mind by doing so. In hindsight I realize that we were tired, the two of us, only I'd finally managed to figure out why I was tired. Melany thought she just needed a vacation or a new job, but that wouldn't help. Melany was the family type, and she would never leave. She would stay in her parents' house until she met a man to take her into his home, and that would be the end of that. We loved each other and love does transcend such differences, but love and unhappiness make for a terrible life. I didn't tell Melany any of this of course, and when she kissed me goodbye I could see in her eyes that she still held hope that I would return to her as a changed man. She believed that after my little journey I would return a good man, a family man, and a man with a plan. The problem was I had a plan, and it did not include staying in one place until retirement on the off chance that I'd had a financially successful life that would allow for a luxurious retirement. She kissed me at her doorstep, along the path to the curb, as I opened my door, and through the window of my truck, each kiss a terrible nail in our coffin. She told me if I ever had a plan or knew where I was going to be that I should call her. A smile and a nod of my head is all I could do to tell her I’d consider it. As I drove away I sincerely hoped that she would quickly grow to hate me so that she could move on with her life. I didn't tell Melany any of this, because I knew I would think about her every day for a long time to come. If there’s one thing I hate it’s hypocrisy.

As I drove home to finish selling or giving away my things I began to think about the places I thought I'd miss. The Bowler's Lounge, Mick's Tavern, the Mediterranean deli where the fellas and I get lunch, the drive along the coast on a rainy day. Once, Jack and I were stopped at a vista point down near Carmel and met these gorgeous girls who had just come back from sun bathing. Jack managed to sweet talk one of them and that very night he was in his room with her while I parked near the beach with one of her friends. She went by Beatrice and had the most amazing voice I'd ever heard. She said she'd thought about being a singer when she was a kid, but that was silly. Beatrice worked at a law firm as an administrative assistant, and she was planning to go to school in order to become some kind of copyright lawyer. Good, I told her. That sounds awesome. The moonlight doesn't really come in clear through misty windows but it still lit her in such a way that if I'd been a painter I would have done my best to remember that moment forever just so I could paint it in different styles. I remember thinking that I used to draw as a kid, and if I'd stuck with it I may have been able to paint Beatrice so that she could be remembered. When I started considering the path I might have taken to become a painter I arrived at the apartment I’d been renting.

I was packing a duffle with the remainder of my clothes when the guys showed up. They were early, but I was nearly done. Francisco took the stereo and speakers, which were too old to sell for anything but still good for a garage or something, and Miggy just collected all the miscellaneous small stuff that was still there. I told the landlord that he could do whatever he wanted with the rest of it and he could keep the deposit. They invited me out to lunch and although I didn’t particularly feel like stopping for yet another farewell meal I told them it was fine. We were once the Gentlemen of Last Days, and although those days were well behind us we were no less close then than back when we were high school kids rebelling against comfortable lives and trying in vain to get laid. If we were going to do the last meal, we were going to do it right. They drove me down to Astro Burgers which had once been our headquarters and home away from home. Jorge, the fat man who manned the register every day for years, had since been replaced by a high school kid with more acne than I was comfortable looking at. So, I looked at the menu and told Miggy to just get me a patty melt and raspberry shake while I got the table. The kids were out in full force by mid-afternoon and we had to sit at a table in the middle between a couple on one side and a giggly group of girls on the other. Nothing had changed. These kids would continue coming here every day until they graduated high school, at which point they would either go on to college or full time jobs. Then of course there are the unfortunate ones who would remain there in that restaurant for the rest of their lives. As I sat with my arm draped over the back of the booth I glanced ahead at the gigglies and smiled at one that was looking at me. She looked away quickly and whispered some indiscernible secret to her friend. I remember thinking that I wish such a thing could have been when I used to be one of the crowd at Astro Burgers.

Miggy brought the food, Francisco brought the beers. They asked what I planned to do about money, about jobs, about repairs, about food, about laundry. I told them I didn’t know, and they laughed and weren’t surprised. They knew me, after all, and I knew them. Francisco used to be monumentally fat but he lost the weight in middle school when he started running. He became quite the popular guy afterward, and even then he was doing well as a sales rep for a computer manufacturer. Miggy didn’t do as well but he found his calling as a manager at a shoe store in the mall, and he makes enough to pay for his home and provide for his wife and kids. They were genuinely happy, those two, and I’m glad they were. I sometimes envied that they could be so happy, but that just made me consider that perhaps I had a problem and everyone else was fine. At the time I couldn’t fathom such a thing because surely I had things right and everyone else was miserable. We ate and laughed for a while as everyone around us left and new customers streamed in. We weren’t there enough to be known or know them, so it wasn’t quite the same as the old days.

When I’d said goodbye to them (again) I returned to the apartment and picked up the rest of my things. I threw whatever was left into the truck bed and closed the camper before stopping by the John, the landlord’s, apartment and dropping off the keys. He then asked me what my plan was, and I told him I didn’t know. He scowled and wished me luck. As I walked away I’ll admit I did glance at my window, but only for a moment. A room, a table, a stove… no one needs those things. I thought I didn’t need those things. With the final step into my truck I was officially done and I drove north to the highway with the late afternoon sun as my only companion. The sun and I would become very dear friends.

They told me it was dangerous, out there on the long and lonesome highway. It seems all manner of unsavory individual lurks along the veins that allow the lifeblood of America to flow. It's difficult to understand when one is used to living within the bubble, but yes it is dangerous out there. And, well, at the time I needed some danger. I needed to get fucked up, both physically and spiritually. I could only know about the highs when I'd hit the disturbing lows, and so I did not doubt and drove on the highway eager to leave the city behind. This choice would not matter until I reached a point where no house could be seen and no other car could be heard. I played no music and allowed the hum of the engine to lull me into a state of numbness. I allowed this until the rest stop north of Barstow where I stopped for a nap. I noted there that I’d officially been gone for four hours and twenty seven minutes. It felt the same.

I smoked the last cigarette of my life that night while I stared at the ceiling of the truck cab that would be my home for some time to come. A lot of things crossed my mind, but all of them were about things I would be leaving behind. I didn’t want to think about those things anymore. I wanted to think about the long and lonesome highway ahead, where I realized I wouldn’t know what to expect anymore. The plan was no plan at all, just a drive. I could’ve very well returned to my place in the city or back to Melany’s arms, but I didn’t. I thought about the drive and the need to go.

And I'm gone.

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