As I leave Sacramento, I roll all the windows down in my car. I just did an hour on stage in front of a small-but-fun crowd. I deposit my check at the ATM in the comedy club’s parking lot, before preparing my car for the two-hour trip home. The night is still warm and moonless, with something like the aftertaste of dry leaves. It's a perfect early October evening. I put the iPod ear buds in, turn the volume up to what I can just bear, and hit 80 on the speedometer in no time. The wind fills the car, the music fills my head, and in a matter of seconds… I dissolve.
I feel like a comet, frictionless and fast, streaking through the night at ground level. The music is so loud my vision vibrates. I'm sure this isn't safe. I'm sure I shouldn't be doing this. I don't care. I've done this so many times, returning from the Sacramento Punch Line over the years. The rush of air circulating through my car feels amazing. Exit signs, fast food ads, and stray neon beams all brush past the sides of my head. The sense of having a body disappears when The Who's “Baba O' Riley” starts. I'm just sonic waves now, stretching the air as I pass through it, and into the ether. This is good. This is a sort of cleansing to me. By the time Willco's “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” starts, I’m almost to Davis. I’m making great time. The music’s loud in places, contemplative in others. Sometimes it seems to match the lonely section of road, other times it gives voice to whatever emotion wells up in me, resisting words.
I take a deep breath near the end of U2's “All I Want is You”. You know those breaths you take when you’ve been still for awhile? Almost like you haven't been breathing? This was a deep, long, pull of oxygen. I taste a sweetness on my tongue I always think of as autumn, creeping back into the land. There’s a faint scent of diesel and gas from the traffic buzzing in time around me.
I think about an ex-girlfriend, and the moment I knew I had to stop trying to get back together with her. It was in Walnut Creek, CA. 16, maybe 17 years ago. Perhaps longer. I don't think I was even doing comedy yet. She agreed to meet me. Before I left to see her I played that song by U2. It’s a long ballad that moves from somber, to moody rhythms of intensity, before settling down into an orchestral arrangement that sounds like something from a wistful fairy tale that was written in the 1920's. I don't know. I went to see her and the predictable happened; she wasn't interested in any reunion. She wished me well and I knew she meant it - and for that I was even angrier than I wanted to show.
We had to go back to a parking lot, at a Walgreen’s, so she could get her car. She got out of my car, and into hers. Not quickly, but with resolve. It was clear she wanted to leave. I stood by her open driver’s side window, as her engine spit out that same smell I could get a hint of now.
We had lived together years earlier, for a year-and-a-half, before she went off to school. A school her parents decided to pay for, in a plan to get her away from me. That’s where she cheated on me with another guy. The plan worked better than her parents could have hoped, I guess. We tried to work it out, but there are some things that, once broken, cannot be put right again. Still, I missed her. Messy as it had been, I would contact her every six months or so.
As we stood there talking, she indulging me by listening to yet one more plea, a woman in another car pulled up alongside us.
"Excuse me," she asked, while pointing to the road in front of the store, "can I get to Creek Side Drive from here?"
Cynthia laughed for a second, before her face creased into the look I knew as a prelude to tears. I smiled and shook my head slightly. The woman sat looking at us, a little uncomfortable. She couldn't have known Creek Side Drive was the street we’d lived on, Cynthia and me, when we were together. Our 2-bedroom apartment was one of a few thousand on that street. Cynthia and I both knew the answer. I looked at the women and spoke the only words that made sense, for the three of us, at that moment. "No. You can't get there from here."