“And where are you driving from?”
“Um… Los Angeles?” I said and somehow felt an immediate need to apologize.
“Ow. I’m so sorry,” he responded.
I looked at his squinting eyes: This one was meaning well, I think. His skin was brown and eroded by the exposure to the sun and to the demands of manual labor. And at the same time, I knew that there was peace in the simplicity of his survival needs.
A cowboy hat with tattered straw edges covered his hairline, but judging by the streaks of gray in his eyebrows, his head was most likely silver haired. Against the darkness of the skin, his baby-blue eyes stood out and promised me that I was talking to a good one. I quickly permitted for a flash of memory of my own old man — (What would he look like, now?) — and I decided that this one had to be meaning well.
“She ain’t so bad,” I said. I shook my head and smiled from underneath my own embarrassment on behalf of the City that everyone was so willing to leave. The moderately pleasant woman handing me my smoothie from behind the counter looked sideways at the cowboy, then at me.
So, I reiterated to them both: “No, really. She ain’t so bad.”
The night before I fled Her city limits, I took a risk and climbed up onto the 10 East. I was initially going to zoom through side streets, out of habit, while circumventing the intersecting onramps and the already buzzing malls. But when nearing a freeway underpass, I noticed the dashing by of traffic headlights. The cars were moving for a change, and so I took a risk.
At first, my path had to be negotiated with an impatient female driver of some Japanese-made SUV on her way to the Valley: She demanded her right of way toward the 405 merger by scowling and widening of her heavily made-up eyes at me, through her tinted, rolled-up windows.
“I’m not the one driving with an iPhone glued to her ear,” I thought, and motioned for her to pass.
She zoomed in front of me, honked in a departing act of her aggression, then stepped on it.
“Yeah. You, too!” I muttered in response. “You fuckin’…”
My navigation of the remaining six miles, however, lacked in adventures. In silence, I calmed down.
The cars were moving, and for the first time, I noticed the clearness of the night. It had been raining for a day and a half, and the asphalt in my lane was black and glistening. On the North side of the freeway, in the crisp, clear air I noticed the square skyscrapers, all lit up in silver. Is that Downtown? Nope, too soon for that.
I rolled down my windows. The air was crisp. The City was quiet. She smelled like sweating piles of leaves, pine sap and chimneys. The hellish pace of the looming holidays was coming upon us; and with the exception of the City’s newcomers, flooding her with their yet un-jaded dreams, Her every resident would begin to plot escape routes.
“She ain’t so bad,” I thought, that night.
I was, however, already that someone who’d preplanned her routes out of the City. To stick around would either turn out painfully lonely or exhaustingly disappointing.
And so, a day before the year’s first giant migration would begin, I drove out. At first, my way had to be negotiated along the loop of the 405 merger. But on the next Northbound freeway and for at least two hundred miles, the traffic would begin to move.
I studied the faces of the other drivers. The further North I drove, the more relaxed the others would appear. The permanent tension between my eyebrows softened, and I would talk myself out of my repertory of glares and profanity.
A gray-haired couple, cooped up inside their vintage Volvo hatchback along my ride through Santa Barbara, wasn’t talking. But in their intimate silence, they seemed to be conspiring against the world. A college-age girl in a white Honda with writing on its side window kept fiddling with her radio. Had she forgotten the tensions at the Thanksgiving table of last year, or was she born to parents who loved her unconditionally?
Couples with strapped-in children in the backseats seemed talkative as they discussed the lengths of their future stays at each other’s in-laws. The brown faces of Mexican workers seemed fancy free no matter the content of their weathered trucks: Some could be working in the vineyards, others — driving to the wealthy ‘hoods of Cambria and Morro Bay. The eyes of truck drivers appeared tired but content: Migrating through the country always promised an escape from obligations and other people’s stress.
I realized that other travelers kept their eyes on their destinations. They drove to: To places and addresses of their beloveds. To me, however, my from — was what propelled me:
From Her — I’ve learned to get away. From Her — I’ve learned to leave and somehow learn while leaving. But the more froms I would accumulate, the more often I found myself thinking, “She ain’t so bad” — when heading back.