"I don't know who you are, but I, I'm with you..." You’re roaring along a crowded highway, slightly embarrassed to be listening to Avril Lavigne, but you can’t quite bring yourself to change the station. Plus, you argue, it’s a brilliant song.
In any case, you can’t help but find it so very relevant to the situation you currently find yourself in. All these trucks and cars and buses, carrying a countless number of human beings—each bearing an almost identical DNA code to your own—in the same direction as yourself. You realize, every time you glance into a window, that there is some profound and endlessly complex story that has created the figure hunched over the steering wheel. And despite yourself, you feel for them. Without even knowing their names, you identify with these blobs of existence. They are not just the same species, but the same minds, all heading the same way—performing the same dull motions of holding a semi-constant speed, in a semi-straight bearing, on a semi-smooth, manufactured surface.
You look over to the passenger’s seat, the figure—who’s safe transport you are currently charged with—slumped, fast asleep, completely oblivious to the singularity of the incredible movement being played out. A sight that causes you to wonder who, at this very moment, is more of a friend. The figure slumped beside you, who you have known for years, yet is currently in a completely different state of being? Or all the other drivers, whom you have never met, but who are all practically identical to you?
And as space revolves by—a substance you are so very separate from—you can consider yourself neither a part of the scenery, nor a passenger indulging in their separate, non-reactive experience. Thus, it must be the drivers that you trust in this moment. The temporary friend-strangers on a seemingly never-ending road.
You come up behind a truck and overtake, keeping an eye on the driver as you do so. They keep an eye on you too, slowing down ever so slightly to ease the process. You briefly flash your left then right blinker: Thank You.
The brilliant thing about driving, you think, is that for a split second you have this profound connection, profound trust, for those around you. But these people are only there for a moment, they come and they go. None stay around forever, and there’s no reason why they should. The worst thing you can ask of someone is for them to stand still.
“The district sleeps alone tonight after the bars turn out their lights. And send the autos swerving into the loneliest eveni…shhhhhhh”
The radio fades into static as you lose signal. Your passenger stirs in annoyance, before reaching up and turning it off.
“Shame, I like that song.” “What was it?”
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight—The Postal Service.”
You laugh, then after a pause start to explain to her your thoughts on your fellowship with the other drivers.
“…You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I understand.” She pauses for a moment, yawns and stares out the window in silence. For a few minutes only the roar of bitumen and vehicles racing by fills the car. You’re about to ask her to find a decent station when she continues.
“But I don’t think it’s unique to driving… I mean you get a similar feeling at a bus or train station, or an airport, or just walking down the street of a crowded city, or a university library. I mean, you could even get the same feeling in a book shop. You know the ones packed with people in the self-help section? Or looking for some kind of inspirational romance novel? I think it’s a feeling you get wherever there are lots of people, regardless of what they are doing.”
She falls silent again and you try to think of a reply, because you’re not quite sure she’s correct. It seems strange that the specific-ness of your association with driving could be extended to people in general—as you only feel connected to other drivers, not their passengers or towns you pass by. For a moment you don’t think she actually does understand, but before you can articulate this she continues.
“I mean, it’s like… you feel among friends, as each one is the same as you… Flying for years and years, not for any particular reason, just because… Because to stop is to give up, to give up is to fail, and to fail is to never find out exactly what it is to be alive, to succeed in a vast emptiness, and to never find out why.”
“Why what?” “Does it matter?”
You pause for a second. She goes back to staring out the window. You’re not entirely sure how to respond, because you do feel like she’s answered your question, and that she understands the feeling exactly. But you don’t understand how. You don’t understand what it is she meant. So you say so.
“I don’t understand.”
She laughs. “Oh, but you do. You’re just thinking too hard. You can’t intellectualise everything you know.”
Her condescension irritates you, and you still don’t get it, so you fall silent. She goes back to staring out the window, softly singing “smeared black ink…” You crack a smile despite yourself.
“Thought that song was depressing?”
“Only if you look at it the wrong way.” She smiles. “I’m sorry.” “What for?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of cour… actually, no, not really. Thanks.”
You laugh together and you realise she’s right. You feel just as connected to her as to the cars around you. She’s driving just as much as you are.
“There’s no such thing as passengers, not really.” You murmur to yourself.
“Bravo.” She huddles into her chair. “Although I’m going to pretend as much as I can. Wake me if you get too bored.”
“Sweet dreams.” “I’m with you.”
And, while driving along this seemingly endless road, that makes you smile.
Clancy is currently studying computer science/law, and enjoys indulging his imagination far more than is probably advisable. Then again, he argues, wandering through the woods doesn’t break any promises, nor does it make the miles any longer.