"So dude, want to head up to a party up in the em-dee
, out by Silver Spring
? Think of it as a welcome back kind of thing."
"How the hell are we going to get up there at this hour? Take the beltway
? Death on wheels by now."
"Nah, I figure we nip up Chain Bridge a bit, hop across the river on beltway against traffic, and head up some back roads I know, we can make decent time."
"Chain Bridge, now? You might as well head up the GW Parkway
and loop through the city for all the good that would do. Might even be faster. Now what I figure we should do is..."
We are the navigators of the long freeway rivers. Bones of good Detroit steel and 93 octane blood. If you didn't grow up in a place like the DC suburbs
, or LA
, or someplace similar, you can't really understand. When you can't walk anywhere ever and when the highways turn into clogged monsters at certain hours and everything interesting can sometimes seem to be a million million miles away, you have to know. You have to understand the way the traffic flows, like a farmer knows the cycle of the seasons, be able to sense a traffic jam
like a fisherman can feel a storm coming on.
But I've been away. In Austin, I don't have a car, I take the bus everywhere. There is a freeway, and it has bad traffic at times, but I'm never awake then anyway. Sometimes I'll even walk, even if where I'm going is twenty blocks off, because it's still sort of a revelation to this suburban kid that you can walk from one place to another, that there is anything ever within walking distance. But when I'm back, that all goes away.
Memory works in funny ways. Smell a familiar smell, or hear a song that you used to listen to all the time, and it's instant reverie. Well, the highways work like that for me. Ebb and flow, fight to change lanes, bitch at the bastard who cut us off. Watch the convection off the asphalt turn everything liquid. And I'm back in high school, cutting class, smoking my first joint and trying desperately to get laid. Waves of memory like semis through an underpass, like brake lights blinking smokey red before the long slow fade into the distance.
I could never move back home. People aren't meant to live like the way it is there, or I'm not, or something. I could never turn back into a commuter. But there's something terribly seductive about it for me when I'm not doing it ever day of my damn life. I'm not sure how it's possible to romanticize a fucking traffic jam, a city full of them forever, but I've managed it. I guess whatever the dominant motif is of your childhood, eventually it gets bathed in memory's warm sepia tones, washed out but ennobled. And to me, it is this broad ribbon of highway looping in on itself forever, these lights oncoming, this desperate game where the only prize is motion. I've got traffic on the brain.