Hello, 2013! Thought you’d gotten rid of me, eh? Can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post but it’s time to get back into the writing swing of things. Hope your holidays gave you a chance to get away from the day to day and check in with yourself and your loved ones. As for me, I got to spend some heavenly quiet time with Jamie and Massi at our house and then a trip to the homeland, Jacksonville FL, for a lovely time with my family.
Jacksonville is actually the largest city in the contiguous US by area. Not by population, mind you, but by sheer geographic size. The result is that in order to get from point A to point B, you tend to drive. A lot. But what I noticed on this trip in particular is how much of that driving occurs in these long, vast evergreen corridors of freeway surrounded by acres upon acres of longleaf pine trees.
And if you’re going in the direction of the beach, you’ll often find yourself crossing high above a classic Florida marsh.
Or if you’re headed toward the center of town, you’ll pass over the arc of a Jacksonville bridge crossing the St Johns River.
Now there’s many a time when your commute is nothing but miles and miles of strip malls. A phenomenon you come across in most cities these days. But in Jacksonville, it’s easy to drive. Especially when it’s not rush hour time and it’s just you speeding along surrounded by trees and quiet.
I fell in love with driving, like many people, when I learned to drive. The independence, the freedom, the sheer mobility of being able to get where you need to go. Before I moved to New York. Until then, my car was my high speed, metallic version of a snail’s shell – a second home parked just outside, stuffed with school papers, crumbling packages of snack foods, extra changes of clothes – if I was ever stranded on some lonely highway I could have survived for a week just on the contents of my car.
New York changed all that – my love of driving did NOT extend to games of chicken with pedestrians and taxis or the constant threat of hours-long gridlock. Maybe I would have been more open to the idea if I’d logged hours in arcades playing Frogger. But I hadn’t so I wasn’t. Still, New York makes up for it in other ways. You’re still able to go to any part of town with your own legs (or a huge, relatively efficient mass transit system). Eventually you even develop your own psychic snail’s shell, which affords a surprising amount of privacy when you’re tucked snugly in the middle of a crowd of other not-so-sweet-smelling bodies on a not-so-well ventilated subway car.
Then we moved to Los Angeles. And I had to drive again. We held out for almost a year before we buckled and bought an old adorable white Volvo with a neverending supply of sand on the floorboards. We loved Bessie but driving in LA is not often a pleasant experience. So even though most of the cultural events in town happen in Hollywood or Silverlake or Los Feliz, we rarely left our bubble of Venice Beach.
The driving in Tucson is much sweeter – less road rage, less chance of gridlock, and if you venture from downtown there’s a whole Saguaro National Park to marvel at. There’s also hills to navigate though, and my flat-Florida self gets mighty nervous in those situations. Luckily, most of our destinations are within a 2 to 4 mile radius. Coupled with an awareness of cars’ contributions to global warming, I drive as little as I can get away with.
But when I’m back in Jacksonville, the old me resurfaces. Driving at night between my parents’ and my brother’s houses, I feel an ancient creature rise up, awakened by the long stretches of lonely road, the highway lights a string of electric pearls leading me ever on. The dark wilds of Northern Florida open up around me as the red hot needle sweeps a dangerous arc on the dashboard. I could go anywhere: Canada, Miami, even back down the 10 all the way home. I don’t, not at that moment, but I always know I could.