Driving, Part II

In August of 1992, I lived in York, Pennsylvania.  I was twenty-four, and I lived alone in a small, second-floor apartment on Philadelphia Street.  It was a dark time.

My summer teaching job had ended, and I had lots of time to read and think and read and listen to loud music and read and think and read and swim long distances at the YMCA.  And during my five-thousand-yard swims–often twice a day–I would think some more.

I overthought, and the reading and loud music could not stop me from doing it.  My friends–one of whom lived upstairs from me–saw me less and less.  I could not sleep properly.  I ate poorly.  I kept swimming obsessively.  I continued to overthink.

One Friday night, Joel from upstairs told me where all my friends would be having drinks.  I did not want to go.  Maybe they would come back to Joel’s later that night, and I could see them then.  I wanted to listen to “Secret Journey” by the Police sixty times while I overthought.

I knew I would not sleep, but I tried to go to bed at ten o’clock.  As I had predicted, all I could do was lie there and overthink.

After two hours, I took a shower.  Then I got dressed.  It was after midnight, and I felt hungry for the first time in days.  But I did not know what I wanted to eat.

I want to go out for breakfast, I thought.  But where?

Another thought, another voice: Canada.

I put on my shoes and got my keys.  I’m driving to Canada for breakfast.

I stepped outside my door and headed down the staircase.  I heard the exterior door open, along with some familiar laughter–Joel and Pete, coming back from the Gingerbread Man, where they had had a few.

“Hey, loser!” Joel crooned as he looked up at me coming down the stairs.  “I’m firing up the grill.  You, Pete, and I are having turkey burgers.”

Pete put his arm around Joel and shook his head as if to say, We ain’t grillin’ after midnight, bud.

“You going somewhere?” Joel asked.

“Me?” I said.  “Just going for a drive.”

“It’s after midnight.  You drunk?”

“Not tonight,” I said.  “I need to get away for a while.”

“Where?” he pressed.  “Come on up with us.  Turkey burgers!”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m going out for breakfast.”

“Where?  The Majestic?”

“No.  I want to try some other diner.  Something more…exotic.”

“Where?”  Joel was insistent.  Pete shook his head again.

“Canada,” I said.  Pete and Joel both howled, bent over in their laughter.  Then they headed up the stairs, squeezing by me.

“Canada!” Pete whimpered between guffaws.  “Pretty funny, Paul!”

“Of course,” I said as I stood by the door, “I’m joking.”  Then I stepped out into the night.

I wasn’t joking though.  

I walked out back to my parking spot, got into my white Mitsubishi Mirage, started it, and gently let the clutch grab first gear.  In ten minutes, I was on Interstate 81, heading north.  

And in seven hours, the sun was up, I crossed the bridge over the St. Lawrence River, and my little white hatchback approached the Canada Border Services Agency.

There was no line, and I pulled my car into one of the lanes that led to the border gate.  At the booth, an agent looked up at me as I rolled down my window.  He was perhaps thirty five, of medium build, with dark features.

He started what was obviously a familiar routine: “Citizenship?”

“United States,” I replied.

“Where do you live?”

“York, Pennsylvania.”

“This your car?”

“Yes.”

“What brings you to Canada?”

“Breakfast.”

The agent, who had looked down at some paperwork in his booth, suddenly looked back up and glared at me.  “Say that again?”

“Breakfast.”

“How long do you plan to be here?” he asked.  It was part of the regular script, I was sure, but his tone had changed significantly.

“I don’t know.  About forty-five minutes?”

He simply stared for a moment.

“How long have you been driving?”

“Looks like…about seven hours.”

“And you drove all the way up here for breakfast?”

“Yes.  Can you recommend a place?  I’m pretty hungry.”

“Don’t move,” he ordered.  He shut the window of his booth and picked up a phone.

Boy, was I getting hungry.

To be continued…

I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

14 thoughts on “Driving, Part II

  1. I am happy that you posted right before I did today as I routinely read the 2 post before and the 1 oafter as my commenting tasks daily. I am bookmarking you and coming back tomorrow! And when I have time today, I want to click on your other website offerings. Why? Because I like your wirting style. Through the small details, you got me to be right there. Listening to the loud music, swimming the laps, and driving north. And like a great author, you ended with the a great cliffhanger. Yep, I’ll be back! Thanks for sharing at a few minutes before 7am today!!

    1. My goodness! Thank you for expressing that! So kind of you. Yes, the rest of the story is scheduled to post in the morning. Thanks for being interested.

  2. Love this story and how you wrote it. I can imagine the face of the man that you answered, “Breakfast” after he asked what brings you to Canada. HEE HEE HEE This is amazing! What a treat to read this morning. thank you.

    1. Haha! Thanks! I swear, I wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck when this happened in real life. I was oblivious to the ironies, but it is so funny to look back on. I am encouraged by your comments. Thank you!

  3. A cliffhanger!
    “Breakfast.” and “looks like…about 7 hours.” Got a genuine smile on my face during this perfectly timed dialogue. Loved the whole flow and tension of the slice.
    You brilliantly evoke the magic and power of driving. I, too, have made a version of this Canada breakfast trip to jog myself out of a dark fog.
    This whole thing feels, in the best way, like a Chevy Chase movie. We shall all patiently await your next installment.

  4. Omg, your life is (or at least was) a movie! But a lot of that is because this is written to perfection! I’m a bit worried, however, so I look forward to tomorrow’s installment!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne–nothing to worry about. My younger self finds his way. We all get a little lost on the road once in a while. Thanks for the compliment!

  5. I love this, Paul. And while I heard the story many years ago, I am enjoying the new details. Can’t wait for part 2!

  6. I absolutely love this post. The overthinking, the music, the unsettledness of a transitional period in life, especially young life. The need to DO something vs. remaining static. The days of WHY NOT. The dialogue and scenes with your griller-friends and the border agent are as real and visual as movie playing – utterly entertaining. The advantage of catching up on post readings and comments is that the next installment is done and I can read it now!

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