Monday, October 11, 2010

The Long Ride Home

I'm not a loner but I like being alone. The other day, I had a chance to enjoy some solitude.

I was at my cousin's house for a birthday celebration. My favorite uncle (he's my only uncle now) turned 90 years old. He looks great and besides a recent set of hearing aids, he's got no major issues. Unlike his two brothers who are now gone, he's spent the last 30 years of his life constantly monitoring his health. He won't eat things with too much salt or too much sugar. Along with the bland food regimen, he works out on his rowing machine each day located in the corner of his bedroom. Besides the one vice of a shot of Scotch each day, he lives a pretty miserable existence.

"All my friends are dead," he told me. "You live this long you get bored. But what else am I gonna do?"

It still nice to see him and we made plans to go out to the cemetery next week to visit the relatives. It's not my idea of fun but I feel obligated to accompany him. I told him I'd go with him if he also promised to leave with me. In other words, I don't want to the reason I go to be for his funeral. He said he'd see what he could do.

While the cemetery is great place to be alone, the place I was talking about was my car. I had driven to the party on a beautiful fall day. Blue sky, leaves just starting to turn, sun warming your body through the crisp air. I went separately from the the family so I could pick up another cousin who didn't want to drive alone. It was a little bit out of the way but I thought I'd be a nice guy and pick her up. She's 82 years old after all and I had not seen her in a while.

Let me tell you, for 82 she's quite spunky. She's about five foot even and a working architect. She lives in a really cool barn she converted into her home. We had a great drive together as we headed up north. She told me about her grandfather who invented the words "schlmiel" and "schlamazel". True story, he made up the words in a humor column he used to write in the early 1900s. [He lived to 102].

Anyway, back to my cherished loneliness.  After being relieved of the duty to drive my cousin back home (she left earlier with someone else heading south), I had the pleasure of making my way home in solitary confinement. The crisp air of the day had turned into a frost warning at night. I climbed into the cabin of the car, a 2005 Honda Civic. It's the car my son uses and it drives better than anything else I have ever owned. Great gas mileage, smooth handling, even somewhat sporty to drive. It's smallness along with the heat I had to pump through the cabin that added to the coziness of the evening.

I had to meander through some dark country roads before I would reach a main highway. I thought about the possibility of breaking down. My cell phone hovered at one bar and I only had a light jacket for some added warmth. It wouldn't be a comfortable experience if something mechanical happened. I put my faith into the old car which had been running perfectly, but one never knows with cars. Maybe that's why we have some type of love affair we have with these machines - we hope that if we care for the car, the car will care for us.

The heat was coming through the vents nicely thanks to the little engine. The gauges were lit up and looked in working order. There was even a calming glow illuminating off the dashboard. The car was low to the ground. She hugged the road and gave a real feel of driving.  I felt better about my prospects of making it home. My ear listened to the engine, my hands sensed the wheel, my foot gave her gas. We bonded.

The car was equipped with a decent radio package. A six-CD changer, equalizer system, an auxiliary plug-in, and, of course, AM/FM. I turned on the button and one my son's CD's blared through the speakers. His music taste is awful. A lot of rap for some reason. Not something I wanted for a long night drive home. I switched to the FM channel and began scanning for something more appealing. It was late on Saturday night so I was afraid of finding a lot more high energy party music, but when I hit the familiar voice of Ira Glass I knew I was going to have a special ride home. The show "This American Life" was just starting, and it would last me throughout the entire ride home. I was just on the edge of the signal's range but I knew as I drove it would come in more clear. To help it along began to speed. I didn't want to miss anything Ira had to say.

While there is a perfect union between driving a car and playing your favorite music, there's something even more special when being entertained by the spoken word. Driving back on that autumn night, in the old car having just come from a party surrounded by people twice my age and listening to a talk radio program reminded me - I'm old. There's not much I can do about that, so I hope I've inherited the same genes as my relatives and can live as long as they have. Because being alone in a car, speeding along the asphalt on a cool evening with the ability to listen to NPR is fuckin' worth it - alone.

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