Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Medium coffee, please"

There was a period in my life not long ago when I regularly spent 12 hours on the road each week. 6 hours from the valley to Houston, 6 hours back. My meals were taken in the parking lot of a Valero somewhere off highway 77, my car was covered in dust and dead bugs, my jeans smelled like cigarettes and B.O., and my best friends were John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I drove 6 hours in the dead of night to get to Houston, then 6 hours at the crack of dawn to get back 2 days later. A lot of people thought I was crazy, my mother most of all. My father thought I had a secret girlfriend in Houston. My boss thought I was a freeloading slacker.  My friends thought I was searching for something, which I suppose was as good a way to look at it as any. Things at that time seemed like an amorphous sea of shit, and I was looking for an anchor. Friday afternoon, I'd sit down in lab meeting, grind my teeth for a couple hours, and roll out without a second look back at the office. Throw some clothes into a bag, throw the bag into the car, and pull out of Sugar Tree Lane, saying "Hey I'll see you in a couple days" to my roommates, not knowing whether I'd hold true to that. So I drove the hell out of my car, which earned my respect and gratitude as the most reliable thing I'd ever owned in my 25-year lifetime.

And what did I find? What did I learn? Well gas ain't cheap, for one thing. Cops trying to make quota at the end of the month don't let you off with a warning, for another. Spend enough time alone and eventually you'll either start talking to yourself or to God. Having a destination motivates you to keep going, even if trivial. The return trip always feels longer than the departing trip.

Finally, unlit, grassy shoulders are the best place to see stars on the road at night. My favorite ritual during night drives was buying a coffee from Valero, heading down the road a ways and pulling into a truck stop. Turning off the car, stepping outside, lighting a cigarette and promising myself I'd never be too good to drink shitty, leftover gas station coffee. Looking back on that time, I still can't decide if I was searching for a way out or a way in.

Anyway, went to Valero and bought a coffee tonight, and that's what brought all this about. So I'm drinking to that and whatever stars I can see from the balcony in my new digs.


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