Went on a late night drive with Will. He was restless and happy when he came home from rehearsal. Hair mussed up from his moon roof, chilled-neck hug and then a pat on my backside. “Let’s go on a drive,” he said. “I want to take you out somewhere. I don’t know if anything is open, but the night is amazing and I want to take you out. Maybe we can just drive and find a little place. Soft-serve maybe. Maybe pie.”
I said I didn’t think we’d find any soft-serve, but maybe we could find a diner and some pie. “Yes, let’s go. I’d love to take a ride with you.”
Cool and humid night air. Windows down. Talking about stuff we did when we were kids and why we’re always trying to capture that wonder you feel when you discovered something new. The roads were empty and nothing was open. Missed the I-Hop by ten minutes. We’d pass clumps of trees filled with singing insects, then buildings covered in windows, lights on, but no life inside. End of the world, but not. Empty parking lots. Parts of Route 1 smooth as butter all black and shiny, other parts pocked and shaking the car. We were holding hands and saying I love you, too many times (if there is a such thing, when you mean it, and we did).
Hardly anybody was driving like a jerk and mostly we had the road. It reminded me of being on the road with my family – military, back and forth – California then Virginia, then California, then Virginia, then Texas and Virginia again. Many hours on the road, watching the streetlights go by. There was no portable DVD player, just the games my mom and dad made up. Dad would say, “Hey, there’s a rub-broka,” and we were supposed to figure out what it meant. Mom would toss out “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” questions and my sister and I would play “Paddidle.” When games grew old it turned to sisters annoying each other.
“Mom, she’s touching me!”
“Stop touching your sister!”
“Mom she’s not on her side!”
“Stay on your side!”
Stopping at I-Hops and Shoney’s and Denny’s on whatever route my dad decided for this trip. There’s something exciting about eating in a nearly empty diner after midnight. That’s still true for me. A middle-of-night visit to Silver Diner excites some part of me that’s still wild and still seven. You’re not supposed to eat in the middle of the night. You’re not supposed to especially eat in the middle of the night at a restaurant. Always – silver dollar pancakes and “dippy eggs” – usually with milk, or hot chocolate (with whipped cream) if I could convince my parents. There is something decadent about a spherical scoop of whipped butter that spreads neatly over the hotcakes. Mom would eye my syrup portion – I always overdid it, even for a runty beanpole of a kid, she didn’t like my sugar addiction. Grape Nehi, grape-jelly donuts (powdered please), grape Now & Laters, grape Pixie Sticks, grape Tootsie Pops. I might have had a thing about grape. I ate a lot and burned it hard and fast, running, climbing, skating, swinging, flipping, jumping – nonstop.
Will and I talked about camping and fishing and he kept laughing and telling me how cute I am, and I held it. He told me his family went on a lot of camping trips and I tried to count mine. Not a lot, but enough, I thought. And for some reason paddle-boats were amazing to me.
He’d rub my thigh with his palm. We’d talk about the empty buildings. The lights.
“Does that one look open?”
“I think it closes at midnight.”
“Phone says there’s a Tastee Diner nearby that’s 24 hours.”
“That one’s dinky and really a greasy spoon, you sure you wanna try it?” He knows more about these things than I do. He knows these roads. He knows what everything used to be.
“Maybe not. I’m fine just driving. Sorry we can’t find any pie for ya.” He loves pie.
“It’s ok, I’m fine, too.”
We listened to a podcast we recorded together that had just been posted. We got home before it was over and we sat in the car, windows down, leaning into each other, listening to us telling the story of how we met.
Now we’re both back in the house, distracted by pixels and electronic machines. But I’m going to end this now and go climb into bed with the love of my life.