Every so often, Tony and I will drive all night. We’ll drop someone off at their house and keep going. We’ll be hanging out at a party, we’ll look at each other and get up and leave.
And then we’ll drive.
We go off armed only with the prodigious knowledge every country kid has of the back roads; we all know how to get from one end of the county to the other without our wheels ever touching pavement. This is before GPS, before any of us had ever heard the word “internet,” or could even imagine such a thing. There is a crumpled and tattered state map buried under layers of white fast food bags somewhere in the back seat, stains of ketchup and mud obscuring most of the destinations, but we never use it.
We just drive.
Our first stop is the only 24-hour store in town. A weary, frizzy-headed woman in a blue polyester smock rings us up as we load up on Mountain Dew, shitty bitter gas station coffee, chips, candy bars, cigarettes, anything we think will fuel us until dawn. We pay her in dollar bills and count out lots of change. She sighs in exasperation, but takes the pile of quarters and nickels anyway, noisily dropping each coin in its little plastic drawer as we walk out the door.
Tony always takes the wheel. I kick my shoes off, resting my bare feet against the dashboard or out the window, and we go until we feel like turning. Sometimes we’ll come to an intersection and he’ll look at me. I’ll say “How about left?” or if I say “Go straight,” he’ll always say “Remember, it’s always forward, never straight,” and then he’ll laugh at his own little joke.
We wind around curves, driving for miles, gravel crunching under the tires. The wind shakes cornstalks, farmhouse dogs bark as we pass in the night, startled at our presence intruding on the silent and black night. Rarely do we see any other cars, not until near dawn, when the late shifts from the factories and prisons let out and the morning shift blearily drives in.
We don’t fuck, at least not in the car. Everyone assumes that’s what we’re out doing, parking and fucking. Instead, we glide along in our mobile confessional. We just talk. We talk about everything, sex, girls he likes, guys I like, our terrible jobs, what happened lately and what might happen later. Sometimes we blast the radio and sing along to whatever comes on. Sometimes we sit in silence, lost together in our own thoughts.
One night we drive for hours and hours and end up on a beach at Lake Michigan. It’s only us and the moon. We walk barefoot across the cool sand, debate walking out on the pier, but it’s chillier here and I’m already cold. We don’t tell anyone we were ever here, no one would believe that the stoner guy and that slutty chick would simply drive to fucking Lake Michigan in the middle of the night for no reason.
The night winds down, they always do. We’ll be too wired for sleep, but too tired to stay in the car. Tony lives with his parents, but they’re cool. It’s the kind of house where someone is always awake, where they take in strays, where you never call his parents anything other than “Mom” and “Dad” after the first time you’ve been there. In the mornings, his mom will always fix me a plate for breakfast, because she’s already fixing an extra plate for someone else who wandered in during the night.
His dad is at his usual station in a battered brown recliner with a cold beer, a cigarette and a remote control. He only sleeps three hours a night, no matter what. He says he’s been that way since he was in the Army. He gives me a little wave as we climb the stairs and then he goes back to intently watching the television.
Tony likes to sleep with music on. He likes the classics, stuff like Led Zeppelin, bands who were starting out as we were being born. The long winding notes of “Kashmir” drift through the speakers. We fumble around, so tired we feel drunk, taking off our clothes, shoving piles of stuff off his bed onto the floor and settling in. Sometimes we fuck, but mostly we don’t on these nights. We’ve fucked enough over the years that sleeping naked together is no big deal anymore. He’ll set the alarm for a couple hours from now so we can each get up and go to work. My mouth feels dry and pasty from all the cigarettes and sugar, and I drift away into a shaky sleep.