Lewis, Kansas was 10 minutes straight east; Greensburg (home of the world’s largest hand-dug well) 28 minutes south. Offerle, a few buildings huddling around grain elevators and a spindly water tower, 10 minutes west. Continue west 29 minutes more to Dodge City, and you could eat McNuggets and fries at the McDonald’s with a table inside a mock covered wagon. Head northeast for just under an hour, and you find yourself in Great Bend, a town named after some behavior of the Arkansas (pronounced AR-Kansas) river.
These were lovely drives, long-legged and straight as a well snapped chalk line. I had driven them so frequently — to movies, basketball games, school, roller-skating parties, late-night truck-stop breakfasts — that they induced a meditative state where the mind forgets to worry about the body and begins to run out on its own.
One of the best things about these drives was the alignment between distance and time, with one mile equaling one minute, no less pleasing for being arbitrary. I would meet few cars or trucks traveling in either direction, certainly not enough to dislodge the equation. There was more sky than anything and, if I was lucky, a whiff of skunk, a smear of coyote sprinting across the highway, or a hawk banking high above something crouching in a field of stubble.
I particularly loved to drive alone at night in the Midwest, loved how the land, rubbed smooth and flat by an ancient glacier, became a seabed for an ocean of dark. How sparse towns offered, every now and then, a few optimistic lights. How night would make everything lose its edges, including my self, suddenly as big as the car and no different from it. I loved to feel swallowed. Small. At the end of this time, these miles that were minutes, was the bed that I dreamed in, where I replayed and repackaged my going through the world, made it a little mine, until I followed one of the two-lane highways away forever.
These memories of driving when I was younger arrive these days as I ride the subway in New York, a good 30 years out from owning a car and where the dark keeps to the tunnel before the train comes. Why now? Why do I want to tell you this? Perhaps it’s as Louise Glück writes:
I lived in the present, which was
that part of the future you could see.
The past floated above my head,