After nightfall in the cold winter months, people in Portland like to hole up. By 8:00 pm, the roads are all but empty. There are cars still meandering around, but there is no wait at a red light. There is no obstruction to keep you from breaking the speed limit.

But, you don't want to. Everything seems so calm and peaceful. There is no rush to get where you're going. The scene outside is almost magical. The air is still and cold, but you do not feel its bite, for you are within your private kingdom of plastic and metal. The dim, orange incandesence of the street lights casts a surreal tint on the roads. Back Cove is a wavering vision of the darkness of the sea at night, contrasted by the reflection of the sleeping city on the opposite shore. By day, the wind ruffles the leaves of the trees. People stroll around the greenway. Cars rush to their destinations. Now, though, the pressure is gone. Fellow motorists are few and far between.

In the absence of stress and noise, the little soothing ambiance that you would not normally notice comes to life. The purr of the engine, mimicking your own relaxation as you do not demand it work overtime, your foot steady and unmoving in gently depressing the accelerator. The soft hiss of the warm air seeping through the vents. The quiet, hushed intonation of a nighttime radio announcer on NPR, barely audiable.

You could gun the engine. You could tune to the hip-hop station and blare rap music. You would do these things if it were midday, but somehow, you are not in the mood. Society has decided to let you be. You are one with the car, the road, and your fellow night brethren, all coalescing slowly through the city toward their inevitable destination, yet all savoring their momentary peace of mind.