Driving East at Sunset

Yesterday’s post, which was full of pictures, seems to have gotten caught in the mysterious land of ones and zeros that lies somewhere between my iPhone and this blog. So until I can figure out how to retrieve it, we’ll all just have to imagine that it exists. You can pretend for a little while, right?

Today, we drove home and watched as the sun went from beating directly overhead to setting at our backs, as our small silver Prius raced forward into the darkness and towards home.

At first, I thought it incredibly sad that we were running away from the light, that there was perhaps some tragic metaphor about losing something as we travelled home, but as the hours dragged on, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing remotely negative about heading into darkness.

After all, isn’t that what most of life is: racing forward into the unseeable unknown? We have our comfortable habits, the way we always like to do certain tasks, but even in our routines, there is an element of uncertainty.

When I ride my bike, I travel the same route, at the same time, three times a week, fifty two weeks a year, for exactly 5.32 miles. And yet, each time I set out, something different happens.

Sometimes the chain pops off, sometimes a bus decides to nearly run me over when I legally have the right of way, sometimes I get distracted by cats and crash into stationary objects. When I leave the house in the morning, I don’t even know if I’ll make it back alive or unhurt, as small as those possibilities might be. I may be caught up in a familiar pattern, but there is nothing guaranteed about the results at all.

And a large and a little cynical part of me doesn’t understand why we choose the rising sun, the beginning of daylight, as a symbol of hope and renewal. Time exists as a circle and has no end or starting point. We got to make them up. So why didn’t we choose sunset and darkness as the beginning? Why is January the first month of the year?

I continued staring out of the window, counting down the hours until I could crawl into bed and write in my journal, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t stupid, juvenile, or ridiculous to think about the metaphorical significance of traveling east at sunset. And soon the sky turned from purple to plum to navy, the stars began to appear, tiny pinpricks of bright white, and I went back to watching the speedometer, lulled into an almost meditative quiet by the rabidly changing numbers on the digital display.

In other news, sleeping in the bathtub isn’t all that bad if you’ve got a pillow and a blanket, and you somehow decided that it would be a good location to sleep when you woke up at three in the morning. (I spend a ridiculous amount of time sleeping in the bathroom when I shouldn’t. It’s quite strange, and I’m not sure why I seem to do it with such regularity. My bath mat and I seem to hang out together for a few minutes in the morning several times a week.)

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In Which Ella Refers to the Morning as Yesterday

Today has been one of those days where so many things have happened that I become confused and begin to refer to the morning as yesterday.

There is just no way that only seventeen hours ago I was standing in the shower trying very hard not to fall asleep and hit my head on the tile wall again.

I took the SAT, finally figured out how to cast spells on pottermore, drove to Connecticut, went to the Laini Taylor event, ate pork so tender that I fell in love, visited Cecelia, ate ice cream, walked around Yale, and drove home. And I only slept for five hours last night.

These things just don’t happen in Ella world. The most I ever seem to do is go to the book or grocery store and visit doctors’ offices.

I’d love to be able to write something interesting and properly describe all of the events, but there is only so much I can write while typing on an iPhone in the dark car. But I’ll tell you this: Laini Taylor is one of my favorite adults and authors ever, Cecelia is the coolest, and I would very happily live off of pork, mangos, and ice cream for the rest of my life.

Also, thanks for driving me everywhere today, Mom and Dad. Six hour long roadtrips aren’t most people’s cups of tea, and you didn’t even complain once.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Questions You Don’t Want to Ask At Four AM: Is the Muffler Supposed Hang That Low?

So the plan for last Thursday night was to drive up to the beach after the Senior Awards Ceremony. It started at seven thirty, and we figured it would let out at nine thirty at the latest. Well, we were wrong by a long shot.

A little after ten thirty Cecelia, Audrey, George, and I hit the road only to discover that most gas stations are closed that late at night. I’ve never seen gas stations closed late at night before, I thought, This is so weird. Apparently, only the highway and centrally-located big gas stations stay open late or all night. I filed away this misconception between glass won’t cut your feet when you walk on it and electric fences don’t shock humans.

As we pull onto the highway, I started feeling really, really excited. This was it. Here we were. On the highway. In the dark. Alone. Then, I remembered that being alone also meant that I was in charge of directions and not getting us lost in the middle of the night, which is more than a major buzz kill*. I am a big fan of responsibilities and being in charge, but I hate to fail. And failing when you’re directing a car is a lot worse and has more immediate consequences than failing to verify a trig identity**. It usually involves being snapped or yelled at, and man do I hate snapping and yelling.

We drove across the state line and over what I like to call the world’s longest bridge. It curves across the water just like the Golden Gate, it just isn’t red-ish gold, over the San Fransico Bay, or that high up. They’re supposed to be rebuilding it because it was built during a materials shortage during the Korean War and designed to be used by far fewer cars, but the plans are still “in review.” So driving across it at night is more than a little scary. I know how to get out of cars underwater, but my chances of being able to swim to shore without collapsing are very slim to none.

We passed under the big EZ-Pass arch, and I reminded Audrey not to change lanes directly underneath it because they’ll send you an angry letter. She laughed and said she wasn’t planning on it. It’s tidbits like these that make me think that I’m an excellent driver’s assistant and probably annoys the actual driver. We got on Cecelia’s favorite highway and kept going under stone bridges built by the CCC and tree canopies. I counted rest stops and furthered my theory that Mobil Gas and McDonalds must have a contract with the state that allows them to be a monopoly.

The part of my brain just above my ears and a little to the the front (probably my temporal lobe) was aching in exhaustion and my eyelids were drooping. We were going to have to merge onto the big highway soon, and I was not going to screw it up by sleeping through it. At this point, I can’t remember when I actually fell asleep with my face turned into my left shoulder. I slept through most of the state, leaning over to sleep with my head on the driver’s seat when they stopped for coffee. I woke up somewhere around two with a surprising amount of alertness and clarity and offered to sing Gold Digger for everyone, which was my first impulse upon waking.

A few minutes later, Cecelia asked, “What comes out of exhaust pipes?” I responded with a stupid amount of certainty, saying “Carbon dioxide!” It’s actually carbon monoxide, as Audrey calmly pointed out, which makes since seeing as people lock themselves in confined places and run the engine to kill themselves. But three o’clock me was imagining that cars had exhaust systems that resembled a human’s respiratory system complete with noses. Cecelia rolled down her window a bit and said that she was concerned about Jeff’s exhaust pipe and muffler. Apparently, it had looked like it was hanging a little low when they had stopped before. We stopped at a gas station to ask if it was serious and they said yes. Whoopee.

My dad had told me to text him updates from the road, and I had been sending one every hour or whenever we changed highways or stopped without response. So when I sent him a text a little after three, I did not expect him to immediately text me back. I was lobbying hard for us to stay at a hotel for the night rather than push on and have something seriously horrible happen to Jeff and us, and my Dad urged us to do the same. After discovering one hotel that was way too expensive ($180) and that Extended Stay America is not hotel, we found a Holiday Inn Express. They said it would be $130 a night, which is totally reasonable in my book, but the other girls wanted to keep looking. At this point it was nearly four, the muffler was scraping on the ground every time we hit the slightest bit of incline, and we were exhausted.

I checked us in, half (well, more like three-quarters) hoping that they ask if I was really eighteen****. Of course, this was really, really stupid considering that my only form of identification was my one from school, which besides having me maniacally grinning with my head tilted disturbingly to the left does not have my birthday. I could be seven and still in the class of 2011.

We dragged our suitcases out of the car, into the elevator and into a nice room on the fourth floor. As I stood in my biking shorts and tee shirt, picking up my skirt from the ground with my toes and tossing into the air to catch with my right hand, I thought about how strange it was that we were all so perfectly calm in the face of what could sensibly called a crisis and how wide awake I was. I drifted off at around four thirty after repeatedly turning from side to side, rustling the sheets and probably disturbing Audrey, only to wake up at seven thirty, ready to take on the world. Why this can happen after four hours of sleep and not after twelve when I have to go to school is a complete and utter mystery to me.

To be continued.

*Amusingly, I only discovered a month ago that “buzz kill” has nothing to do with killing bugs that buzz. To be fair, this assumption was somewhat reasonable seeing as your good mood would be disrupted if you got murdered. Welcome to the way Ella’s brain interprets the world, everyone!

**Remember that time when I said that I was going to conquer them? Like here and here and here and especially here? Well, I still suck at them. Unlike every other academic endeavor I have undertaken, hours and hours and hours of study have gotten me nowhere. It stinks. But I am going to figure it out. I just have to.

****Registering to vote and checking into a hotel are the first rights I’ve exercised since my birthday, and it feels so good to do them. I might go buy spray paint just for that wave of excitement and power (and so I can fix the part of the driveway I accidentally painted white*****).

*****How do you un-paint the driveway?

On Kidnappings, Bread and Jam, and the Misty Road by the Reservoir

When I try to think of all the classically teenager-ish things I’ve done, I come up with a very short list. I do not drink, I do not smoke, I have never dyed my hair, or even gone as far as to curse. I do, however, love spontaneous (though safe and tame) adventures. So last night when George called me asking if I wanted to be kidnapped, I said yes.

I raced through the house putting on real pants instead of pajama shorts and eating my dinner as fast I could. Several large mouthfuls later, I was flying out the door and into Cecelia’s car. With George and Doc in the back and Cecelia at the wheel, we drove through town to the diner on the edge of the highway. As we walked across the damp parking lot, I thought about how strange it was that I’ve only ever visited that diner at night. And never eight o’clock night. I’m always in there well after ten and with a group of people. The food isn’t that great, but with the exception of fastfood from a few towns away, it’s the best there is at that hour.

When we were seated in a booth, and I was drinking water out of the clear plastic cup, the same type that every diner seems to have, I couldn’t help but feel sad that everything would soon be coming to a close. People that I have adored and admired for years will be leaving, scattering their different ways. Cecelia’s off to Yale, Doc to Boston, and George to England. And while I know that I will definitely see Cecelia and George again, I don’t know if I’ll ever even talk to Doc once high school is over. Unless I have a terribly close bond with someone, this is it. I might run into them at a graduation party or see them at prom, but the prospect of a proper conversation is minimal. And that is all terribly depressing.

But it wasn’t the time for missing people just yet. I could do that tomorrow. Tonight was for having fun. Cecelia received a suspiciously green veggie burger, and I happily spread jelly on my toast. But best of all, we just talked. There were stories about people we know and the crazy, interesting, funny things they’ve done, and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. The meal seemed to end all too soon, and we were once again back in the car, headlights against the dark on a mostly empty road.

No one wanted to head back just yet, so we drove around while George and Cecelia looked for the “scary street.” It ended up being the street that wraps its way up through the mountain and past the reservoir. It’s all twisting and curvy, and with the mist hanging low and the yellow reflective signs telling us to turn this way, it is kind of creepy. But I wasn’t scared–it just spoke to me of night driving. The type of driving where you just go and go and go forever until you drift off with your neck at an uncomfortable angle only to wake up and discover yourself in a place starkly different from the one you fell asleep to. The type of driving that puts you halfway to Tampa or in the suburbs of Portland in the early morning light. But we didn’t go that far. Cecelia just swung the car around at the end of the reservoir and drove us all home.