Authors: Jennifer van der Kwast
Man, I am so not going to miss any of this shit. I am so glad I will never again have to deal with ruthless cabdrivers, Porsche drivers with death wishes, idiots who stop to read street signs when they should already know that Fourteenth Street is below Fifteenth Street.
I follow the flow of traffic. And as soon as I’ve charted one alternate route after another, I’ve already missed the turn I was supposed to take. Before I know it, before I can navigate my course elsewhere, I find myself leaving the city through the only porthole left to me—the Battery Tunnel. In the dark, winding cavern, I curse myself the whole way through.
It is downright eerie, lingering in this dark, smoggy canal. And what makes it even worse is listening to the garbled cackle and hiss coming from the car stereo. I flick over to the FM stations, hoping to find a voice that sounds even remotely human. Failing that, I turn off the radio entirely and continue to creep along in dreaded silence.
I finally emerge back into daylight and pull onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Although the traffic is no less daunting, and I’m still muttering a few choice adjectives under my breath, I can feel the tension lifting from my shoulders and my minor bout of road
rage starts to subside. I flip the radio back on. An announcer ticks off a list of bands I really couldn’t care less about. But compared to the dismal traffic reports, names like “Bad Company” and “Grateful Dead” sound relatively soothing. I let the station stand.
In the reflection of my rearview mirror, I catch a fleeting glimpse of the New York Harbor. How funny. I keep forgetting that Manhattan is an island. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense—the pink-skinned Scandinavian tourists in tank tops and short shorts, the unbearable smell of fish in Chinatown, the sidewalk vendors who don’t speak a lick of English. As on any island, an extended stay here means risking a bad case of overexposure. At best, you’ll suffer from a minor heat rash. At worst, you’ll feel trapped and suffocated, pining for—
Suddenly, I freeze. I realize I’m singing along with the radio. And, as far as I know, I don’t know the words to anything. I turn up the volume.
Wait a second. Did he just say …
After all those years building up a firm resistance to love songs, now I discover, much to my disbelief, I’m completely powerless against it. Two things happen immediately. First, I start to cry. The tears spring up so quickly, I wonder how on earth I could possibly have been caught so off guard. Not just any love song could have done it. It had to be this particular song. It had to be the fuck-you to all love songs. Elton John is a sneaky son-of-a-bitch to creep up on me like this and to break my heart so effortlessly.
And second, my foot eases off the gas pedal and I find myself, rather inexplicably, pulling off the highway at the next exit.
“Ha!” I laugh, overcome with head-spinning, palm-sweating giddiness as I realize I’m driving past a familiar row of brownstones, on a street lined with lampposts and cherry trees.
Now, see these are the decisions I like the best. Not the bold,
spontaneous ones. Not the agonizingly slow and dubious ones. I like the decisions that make themselves. Of course the route I’ve chosen to take out of Manhattan just happens to lead through Brooklyn. Of course there’s an exit ramp off the BQE that just happens to lead directly to Jake’s apartment. And of course I could only be driving down this final stretch drumming my fingers against the steering wheel and belting out the lyrics to “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
The safe thing would be to end my story here. Before the car runs out of gas, before I get hit by an oncoming bus, before I spend hours frantically searching for recognizable street signs or an open parking spot while truckers and gypsy cabs honk and scream at me. And all of this is even before I discover Jake isn’t home, or he’s reunited with Simone, or he wants nothing to do with me. When I look back on today, whether it’s from Denver, Aspen, Manhattan, Brooklyn, or wherever, all I want to remember is that I was singing in the car, loudly and off-key, and it was one of those miraculous moments when every traffic light I hit along the way was green.