My car goes vroom. Yes, I realize that most people describe the sound of a car as “vroom,” but mine literally goes vroom. As soon as the RPM needle hits above 3,000, that sweet crooning of the engine begins. It’s a very satisfying sound, especially at the end of a long, tedious school day, when I push down the accelerator just enough to (safely of course) pull out in front of that stupid white car with “HYPERLITE” on the rear windshield that always cuts me off. Or when I speed up after the person who’s had his right blinker on for the past five miles and finally makes that long awaited turn—to the left. It doesn’t vroom the entire time, just long enough to make an impression.
I call it The Silver Arrow. The entire thing must be capitalized to achieve the full effect—the silver arrow just isn’t the same. It’s silver (obviously), small but not compact, with a spoiler, a mysterious antenna whose purpose remains unknown, a dark interior, and a dashboard that automatically lights up (and goes off). I keep my CDs in nearly every available storage space. This includes the glove box, which also houses, in addition to the standard registration and proof of insurance and owner’s manual, oversized sunglasses complete with rhinestones and a book of fairy tales by Francesca Lia Block.
Thus, with the windows rolled down, the engine making the occasional beloved “vroom,” the current CD of the day blaring, and the occasional passenger, The Silver Arrow and I make our way through life. This generally includes the daily trips to school and back only, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.
I pull out of my driveway in the morning, and it doesn’t matter that the sun isn’t up. It doesn’t matter that I’m shivering as I wait for the heat to finally kick in because I didn’t warm up my car. It doesn’t matter that I woke up too late to put make-up on, and the glimpses of myself I catch in the rearview mirror are slightly frightful. It doesn’t matter that I’m not heading anywhere exotic or intriguing. All that matters is that I am young. I am young and have a car and have a false sense of independence because of that. I am young, and my friends and I discuss gas prices, jobs, and the idiocy of males as if we are world weary Women, but we are really only Girls playing dress-up with our ideas. I am young and sometimes I drive fast, or take turns a little too quickly, or roll down the window at one in the morning when it’s forty degrees, taunting the world to dare to give me a cold.
When I get to that stoplight where a right turn leads to the daily grind and heading straight leads to the freeway and anywhere-but-here, I sometimes pretend to go straight. Of course I never do because I’m responsible, decision conscious, filled with Catholic guilt, and all that—but I pretend. I imagine that it’s the right turn that leads to everywhere, and picture myself on my way to bigger and better places. This is especially easy on those mornings when the fog crawls lazily over the road and the world seems vague, like a painting that the artist hasn’t finished. The Silver Arrow’s headlights cut through the gray wooliness, and I am in the English countryside, in the early morning, on my way to the train that will take me to London for the day. Or I’m in Argentina, driving out to my friend Chelsea’s rancho to pick her up. We will be meeting the handsome gauchos we tangoed with the previous night and made plans with to spend the day in Buenos Aires. Anywhere, pleaseohplease, anywhere but here.
Sadly, these fantasies are always shattered when we park in the same spot as we do every day and the purely west coast architectural mass of the school comes into view, in no way resembling a Swedish Alps ski lodge. Or even a Californian airport. Or a county bus station. The sight always elicits sighs and the occasional litany of “No, no, no.” And we sit there, Chelsea, The Silver Arrow, and I, and we ponder. And The Silver Arrow whispers, “I’m a car. I’m meant to be driven. You have a full tank of gas and a recently deposited pay check. School hasn’t officially started and as far as your parents are concerned, you’re here for the next seven hours and utterly unreachable. Think how far you could get in seven hours.” Which leads me to turn to Chelsea, who more often than not is apparently trying to lose herself in the sunrise—oddly enough those beautifully colored clouds that stretch in all directions from the eastern horizon never seem to stretch over the school—and suggest innocently that we drive to Mexico.
It has yet to happen. If it had, I would be sipping a margarita on the hood of The Silver Arrow as the sun sunk into the warm waters of the Pacific, laughing at the poor fools in Small Town, U.S.A. But I’m not. Leave it at that.
I like driving at night best. The emptiness of the surface roads and how on the straight-aways, I can see the lights of the traffic signals stretching on and on, all green as if a symbol from above to continue forward. On clear nights, when the full moon is out, I am tempted to turn off my headlights and just follow its light. The Silver Arrow and I are sharing secrets with Mother Moon on nights like that. She whispers to us all the natural mirrors that have caught her light and thus part of her—the sheltered mountain lakes, the bright blue tropical oceans, the puddles in the gutter along city streets. The Silver Arrow is mercury, bathed in pure moonlight, gliding along the dark abandoned roads to home.
On the freeway at night, it is different. The 101 leads everywhere, and cars rush along it, everyone with a purpose. South and across the Golden Gate (that is in fact red) to the City for clubs, parties, plays, concerts. North to cozy little high-end restaurants that serve wines from local vineyards, fundraising events at wineries, some of the state’s most dangerous and breathtaking beaches. The Silver Arrow and I grace the intricate network of pavement and signs with our presence occasionally at night, heading south to a city, but not the City, to hear bands that my friends are in. And on the way home we (The Silver Arrow, whatever friends came along, and me) stop at In-N-Out at midnight, which is when it is the most crowded because every other teenager had the same idea, for burgers and fries and milkshakes. Then we are back on the 101 north. Zooming and along The Silver Arrow and I go, back to my home. For some reason, I always seem to forget that home is where I’m heading at the end of the night. Going along the fast-paced and ever crowded freeway, when all the world is obscure, and the stars are pinpoints of light that can only sometimes be seen due to domes of light pollution that hover over cities, I can forget. Like in the foggy mornings, I am somewhere else in the world, heading to a place exciting and different. Even if it is just fooling myself for a bit that I am driving closer to the City that, in reality, I’m moving farther away from.
At the end of a long night, coming home from work or parties or whatever activity has kept me out late, I am filled with youthful power. I am invincible, immortal, a demigod with the world at my feet. I say goodnight to The Silver Arrow, unlock the door of my house, and step inside. The sound of television laughter hits me as I relock and deadbolt the door, flick off the porch light that was left on, a beacon beckoning me home. I drop my keys on the end table, hang my purse on the knob, and take in the sight of domesticity that I have spent my day and night imagining was somewhere else. I walk into the living room to find my mother asleep on the couch, telephone resting on her chest. Most of my cell phone calls are made to this house, to that phone. I call to give my location, my time of departure and my estimated time of arrival at wherever I’m going next. It annoys me to no end, always having to inform my parents of my every move. But these sights always remind me why I’m required to, why I never blow it off or lie like some of my friends.
I fight against it, rant about it, make elaborate plans to escape to Cabo San Lucas and become a rich tele novella star with friends, but at the end of my drive I’m always at the same place. Home. A year from now I will anxiously be awaiting acceptance letters from schools on the opposite coast. My days of saying “hella,” of having eighty degree weather in February, of passing countless vineyards wherever I go will be over. Three thousand miles I plan to put between me and my little home city. I don’t think I will miss this place. The people yes, but that’s it. I will miss The Silver Arrow who will be left here, probably traded in along with my mom’s current car to the dealership to help pay for a new one—a convertible. It will be the end of an era, and I have already started to try to convince my parents that keeping my car is a good idea. Sure, it’s another car payment every month, but it gets great gas mileage. It is small and cute and holds most of my teenage memories and dreams. Its upholstery holds echoes of laughter, conversations, and tears. In the end though, if I’m being truly honest, The Silver Arrow doesn’t fit in with my world-traveling dreams. After all, I am going to get my own private jet with my second million (the first I will use to buy my parents their dream house).
I am a big city girl trapped in a quaint, country setting. I am young, a child still in all reality though the politically correct term for my age group is, apparently, “young adult.” True young adulthood is a year away, countable in days. The future is so frustratingly close, but not yet here, though sometimes its proximity to the present is terrifying because of the chance that its reality will not compare to my hopes. Until then, when the future becomes the present and the present becomes the past, with the grace of God go I, zipping through my life in The Silver Arrow, and dreaming of bigger and better things and hoping that they will in fact be bigger and better.
Leah Wickman is better known as Queen Leah (to her friends) and Know-It-All-Over-Achieving-Mumble-Grumble (to her even closer friends). She enjoys making elaborate plans for simple things; participating as an attorney in her county’s Teen Court (Juvenile Justice) program; taking over the world; playing various instruments; writing (en español) about top-hatted opera-going fish named Cinderpez; driving The Silver Arrow; and getting in odd positions to read. Leah will be ecstatic if she is accepted into Brown University for the freshman class of 2007. She is currently attempting to write a novel, but occasionally finds it difficult without her muse (who ran off with her invisible friend, Fred, to Atlantic City, in the summer of 2005).
© 2006, Leah Wickman