This One Time, 34

This one time I was driving to work and it was taking forever. The commute wasn’t the longest I’ve ever had, but still….

The driver’s seat of my car was the most comfortable chair I owned. The CD changer was full of good music to listen to, and my commute buddies, the cars and trucks and SUVs I drove this route with every morning, were all familiar faces, other half-awake zombies like myself, usually polite and considerate because there was really no need for a hurry. All things considered, the destination was merely, for any of us, another eight to ten hours of work. It could be worse.

In China there are rumors of traffic jams that last for days. A week or more, even. So I try not to complain.

The route held to the template of just about every commute I’ve ever had in this town or any town similar to it: subdivision to feeder road to highway to the beltway/perimeter/ring-road and then a kind of reversal, back to a highway/feeder road to a main thoroughfare to an urban cross-street to a parking garage. For the duration, we sit in our little plastic and metal boxes, relegating the actual operation of a vehicle to the same portions of our brains to which we relegate the boring and repetitive portions of our usual workday. For most of us, it all happens in a kind of trance, and emerging from the car at the end of wherever we’re going is like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

We get out, we yawn, we stretch, we pump blood into our atrophied limbs to reinflate them to usefulness — and then we enter another cocoon.

In the trance, the driving trance, that’s where the edits happen. The last thing you remember about where you’ve been is driving under the cacophonous symphony of upflung concrete noodles that every town calls Spaghetti Junction, then cresting the hill to where the sun behind you hits what passes for a skyline… and then you’re missing ten or fifteen minutes.

It’s not like you were actually asleep or abducted by aliens or something, but you’re missing time. And, to be frank, a bit grateful. It wasn’t necessarily time you needed to experience.

Sometimes I think about where the time goes, and if maybe I’ll ever get it back when I have a better use for it. And then there was this one time.

In my opinion, every day you have to leave your house before dawn is ruined. In the colder months, when it’s dark when you leave your house and dark when you leave work to go home, sometimes it feels like the whole day passes in a bit of a dream. Whole series of days. And if it rains on the weekend, it feels like you can lose half a month or more. Sometimes it feels rare to actually experience the passing time. So this one time, this one morning, went on forever.

My ass plopped into the seat and I started the car and … there was a sudden spike of panic because I didn’t know how long I had been sitting there, zoned out. I checked the dash clock and I was only running a minute or two behind. So I backed out of the driveway … and it seemed like it took half an hour to get out of the subdivision. My house is toward the back anyway, but I kept making the same turns onto the same roads, and the particular song the stereo was playing wasn’t my favorite, and it just kept dragging. I wasn’t nearly running late enough to be worried about the time, but I checked the clock again, and it wasn’t even two minutes after I checked the first time. Except I remembered checking the clock at least twice before. On my way out of the subdivision.

Eventually I made it to the feeder road. And then the highway. I felt half freaked out and half in some kind of fugue state. On bad days, when there’s a wreck or construction before you even get to the highway, or when there’s ice on the road, it’s taken half an hour or forty minutes, and this felt worse than that. And every time I looked at the clock, it had been four minutes. Five minutes. Eight minutes.

Going down the highway, I was finally in the commute trance, but kind of sideways. I kept thinking I’d passed intersections I was just now coming to. Again and again. And checking the clock. And eventually I heard the song on the stereo change. And eventually I made it down the ramp into Limited Access Hell. The beltway.

It felt like I was driving laps. Changing lanes to get to the one I favored, away from the ramps but out of the way of the people in the far left lane that could find a way to be late even before sun-up. Or maybe their day jobs were on the NASCAR circuit. And it was interminable. I popped the “next track” button again and again and again trying to find a song to listen to that wasn’t one I’d heard a thousand times, one that still had some remaining amount of interest in it, one that I could associate any memories with that weren’t the thousands of iterations of this thousand-mile commute. I went through all six disks in the changer before I resorted to the radio. I spun the dial all the way left to the college station that would play stuff you’ve never heard before and will likely never hear again — and it was some droning community-interest lecture.

I could feel my hair turning gray and my teeth loosening in their sockets. I expected to have to trim my nails a couple of times before I passed the next exit. And eventually I got lost in fantasies of what it would be like to shrivel and fall apart doing laps on this highway to nowhere…

And then I found myself at the top of my exit. Like I had broken through whatever barrier I’d been trapped behind. There was the white Lexus behind me that always went into the garage across the street from mine, and that sometimes I would follow most of the way home. And like an angel it escorted me through the next five traffic lights, to the right-hand turn, down the strip past the community center with the pool I’ve always meant to try, to my garage…

And I emerged from my cocoon, yawned, stretched, pumped the blood into my shriveled and atrophied limbs, grabbed my courier bag that rarely held anything more than my lunch, and … entered my other cocoon.

And I didn’t give it another thought for a months. Until the sun finally came up.


February 3, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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