An impromptu road trip from Boston to Florida at 3:00 a.m. (nonfiction)
|"Only he who risks going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T.S. Eliot
The thing was, I had gone over this. Repeatedly.
I’d rehearsed the entire delivery. My words; the timing and cadence with which I would impart them; the timbre of my voice; even possible facial expressions were choreographed in the hopes of engineering my little speech to be one of brevity and painlessness.
I was therefore rather vexed when at the moment of execution I discovered my loathsome mind to have become a dark, vast expanse of nothingness – completely vacant – leaving me in the lurch to stammer, “I think… I’m not… uh, maybe we should… see other people?”
It was difficult to determine whether the resulting warmth that eased its way through my body was caused by the discomfort of the situation or by the fiery venom that spewed from my girlfriend’s poisonous eyeballs. “We should what?” she hissed.
You stupid idiot brain, I thought, deciding a nearby spatula offered the best possible defense weapon that was readily available. What good are you? Julia was within arm’s reach of a fire poker, and I calculated my odds of surviving a freefall from her third floor apartment.
In any event, we didn’t break up. Julia did as Julia does: fire and brimstone evolved into a logical discourse which then gave way to her weepy routine, sex followed, and I still had myself a girlfriend. Outstanding.
I really and truly cannot tell whether I’m happier – check that – more miserable when I’m single or in a relationship. The grass is just as decrepit on either side.
“She’s just so unreasonable.”
I shake my head in frustration and let the remainder of my beer, about a third of the can, drain into my throat. I retrieve another.
Tom gives me his I’m-not-surprised smirk. “Well, what do you expect?” he says. “She’s the jealous type. You knew that when you got involved with her.”
“She’s not that bad,” I argue. “She just doesn’t like it when I go out. Plus, she’s been getting better…”
Tom tilts his head back and finishes the beer he’s working on, number seven, or maybe eight. He grins. “Keep telling yourself that.”
I know he’s right. Julia possesses an undeniable jealous streak, the possession of which she firmly denies. I’m 21 and like to go out. Julia is 19 and cannot. Translation: trouble. Factor in an acute case of Italian temperament and flood the equation with booze… ours falls a tad short of what might be considered a happy, healthy relationship.
Tom points out, “What did she call you, a ‘narcissistic jackass?’”
“Yep. She's a sweetheart.”
It’s a frozen Tuesday night in March, a few hours removed from my botched break-up attempt. Tom and I are having a few drinks at my place and commiserating. This has become something of a Tuesday custom for us, since neither has much to do on Wednesdays and going out so early in the week is not only a waste, but reeks of alcoholism. Julia figures we’re out picking up women. If only.
Both being of pleasant dispositions, generally our Tuesday drinking sessions are not so shrouded in negativity. Tonight, however, we’re a divorced women’s group on PMS and going through nicotine withdrawal.
For me, it’s been one of Those Days. The kind where nothing catastrophic has happened, where there’s been no key event to precipitate a foul mood, but where the cumulative effect of many little troubles has just eroded at my temper until I’m resigned to the fact that it’s officially a crappy day. And, AA tenets be damned, I’m going to drink.
Work, school, the weather… my inability to extricate myself from an unsatisfying relationship… no topic is immune from our bitching tentacles. Southeastern Massachusetts is beset by an arctic chill, which, coupled with the snow that blankets the ground (not because it has recently snowed, but because it hasn’t been warm enough in recent weeks for any of it to melt from the previous nor’easter), is compounding our misery and ensuring respective bleak outlooks on life.
The night wears on like countless others. We play a few rounds of chess and then a couple lackluster hands of cards, taking turns contributing to the complain-fest. Life in the fast lane. We’re drinking Bud Ice, a beer neither of us cares for flavor-wise, but enjoy because of the additional .5 percent alcohol/volume ratio it has over regular beer. Efficiency is critical.
“I still think we should break up.”
“You’re kidding me.”
I’m a little taken aback by his statement, as Tom has never exactly been a card-carrying member of the Julia fan club. “Why,” I ask, “you think that’s drastic?”
“No, I mean we’re out of beer.”
He holds up the empty case, reinforcing his point. A ghastly development, to be sure. One of the chief elements of crying in your beer is that you have beer. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.
Tom looks at me. “Do you have anything else here?”
Fortunately, I’m able to purloin a forgotten bottle of rum from the basement, but we’ll need Coke. There’s a 24-hour 7-Eleven in the next town, so we set off for a quick ride. This is fine, as we’ll also be able to have a cigarette in the car. Outside, we’re greeted by an icy wind that chills straight to the marrow; our visible breath comes in ragged billows as snow crunches beneath our feet.
Still shivering as we pass the turnoff for 95 South, a crazy idea pops into my mind. “What if you just got on and didn’t stop?” I say, fumbling with the heater that is practically churning out ice. “Keep going until you hit the warm winds of Florida. Imagine?”
The suggestion is made mostly in jest, but the ever-so-slight, serious undertone to it doesn’t escape my pal. Experience has taught me that when he’s drunk, you can get Tom to do just about anything. The words What if… linger in the frigid air, cloaked in a daring aura of temptation. Visions of clear turquoise water, warm pink sand and gently swaying palm trees are inescapable, and the notion of obtaining such paradise right now is almost too delicious to fathom.
My wingman and I exchange slow glances, an unspoken agreement passing between us. Returning to my place five minutes later, the jury is in: Florida or bust. To hell with the Northeast, it’s climate, and it’s troubles; we’re jumping ship.
Frantically racing around the house, we stuff clothes into backpacks by the handful, scrape together whatever cash we can gather, and then load everything into the trunk of Baby Blue. Before we can pause to reconsider, car doors are slammed and we’re peeling out of the driveway. Fifteen minutes have elapsed from the time I made an (maybe not so) innocent suggestion, and we’re on I-95 and surging down the East Coast.
The highway, dark and empty, evokes the promise of adventure; it screams of excitement and possibilities… who knows what intrigue-chalked exploits await? What perilous episodes we’ll encounter? It’s a little after three in the morning and we can barely contain ourselves, delirious with euphoria.
There have been few instances where I’ve had the courage or wherewithal to plunge into the unknown, to roll the dice on a chancy bet. It’s easy to talk a good game, but when it comes time for action, reality has a tendency to clash with ambition. Yet here I am with my best friend, unleashing a dose of irresponsible whimsy from the anchor of practicality… hightailing it to greener pastures. It’s an impossible idea to wrap my mind around.
At four-thirty we stop for gas, grab some snacks and drinks, and stop in a roadside diner for a cup of coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches to ease to suspicions of a Rhode Island state trooper who suspects that we might be under the influence. Of course, his suspicions are not unfounded, and his unnerving stare from across the diner has us in a cold sweat. There’s a short time period where I fear the trip will be D.O.A., but luck is on our side and we’re not detained any longer.
Back on the road, we make great time as we ease out of New England. The sun begins to rise as we hit the New York state border, and it’s sometime after seven when we reach New York City. Having been on the road for a while, we decide that getting a little rest is probably a good idea. With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, we pull over at a gas station/fast food place and fight off the early winter sun for a two-hour nap.
We awake groggy and hung-over, discovering that our headstrong determination has wavered just a touch.
“What the hell are we doing?” Tom croaks, sitting up in his seat.
“I think we decided to take an impromptu fieldtrip to Florida.”
He shakes his head. “I was afraid of that. We’re drunken fools, you know.”
I sip some Gatorade and pass the bottle to Tom, considering the statement. “Yeah,” I agree, “probably.”
Still, there’s no way anything is going to stop us now. We get back on the interstate and continue our descent across the lines of latitude. The farther south we get, the less important home seems...