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Jewish Journal

Transit

by Teresa Strasser

September 14, 2000 | 8:00 pm

I didn't do much today but drive.

No one died. No jobs were lost or won. I didn't run into an old boyfriend, have an epiphany or a traffic accident. I just climbed into my car and pointed it across the Mojave desert.

My head was like one of those deluxe crayon boxes with every conceivable shade of mood - and that was only between Primm and Barstow.

I was just hitting one of my stomachache-inducing purple moods when I pulled up to a Shell station for gas. As I stepped out of the car, desert air surprised my lungs like a warm drink. I stretched my cramping legs against the rear bumper and felt my mood lighten. I moved slowly and deliberately, feeling as if I were in a movie, or at least a ZZ Top video.

I think most of us former joint-custody kids have a special relationship with transit.

Travel is something we did a lot of during our formative years. In my case, I flew back and forth from San Francisco to Los Angeles every month starting at age 4. Later, when my dad moved up north, I took the Golden Gate Transit, the most glamorous sounding of all my travel mediums, but a bus all the same. I logged quite a few travel hours in my day, reading Mad Magazine, eating M&M's and not knowing if I was leaving home or heading toward it.

All of which is a perhaps long-winded way of saying that the road makes me nostalgic and nervous and hopeful all at the same time. It was a little much today.

One minute, it was like Jean-Paul Sartre was sitting in the back seat telling me to pull over and walk off into the mountains. "It is your responsibility to control your own destiny," he seemed to say to me in his uppity French accent. Moments later, I would be seized with the beauty of something banal, like a bright red Del Taco sign. Was I having a nervous breakdown, an existential moment or just one mean case of PMS?

There's not much a nosh can't fix, so I veered off toward the aforementioned glorious Del Taco sign and got a burrito for the road. Jean-Paul left in disgust.

Something of his essence remained, however. In the crayon box of moods in my head, the blackest is always brought on by thoughts of what I'm not doing. There's nothing so wrong about my life except the idea that I could be wasting it. The things I'm not doing get big and bossy. I obsessed on that for miles and just sort of bored myself into a better mood.

The greatest thing about the road, what lures me back, is the temporary freedom from the overwhelming need to be doing something more important with my life and the sadness that I don't know how. On the road, I'm off the hook. I can't be writing, volunteering or improving myself in any way because I'm just driving. I can be a total loser as long as I obey the rules of the road and manage not to spill too much taco sauce on myself.

When I finally got home, my face was wan and road weary. My heart was racing and I couldn't catch my breath. I was clammy and my skin didn't seem to fit. Parts of me, it seemed, were left on the road, like something that fell off the back of a truck.

I'm searching for a happy ending here, but to what? I didn't do much today but drive.

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