I've had many learning experiences while driving over the patchwork quilts of St. John's roads. Two flat tires in one week taught me the fine art of the pothole slalom. A broken alternator taught me that tow truck dispatchers perceive time differently than most people. And, oddly enough, a hitchhiker who tried to pick me up taught me a little about what I want out of life.
It was the kind of fall night that makes forecasts redundant. Rain fell, fog rolled, and drizzle did its thing somewhere in between. My freshly second-hand car hurtled down Prince Phillip Drive, engine purring with the power of a soapbox racer. The road was clear as far as the eye could see, about fifty feet.
It was 3:30am, and I was heading home from poker at my friend's house. At the time, I would've called myself “single and looking,” but the reality was “single and wishing.” I'd spend my time playing cards with the boys, then wish that a girl would spontaneously walk out of the fog and into my life.
The light was red as I pulled up to a major intersection. Two headlights shone through the fog across from me. As I waited for the light to change, a figure interrupted the headlights. “What the hell is that person doing,” I thought. “Get off the road.” But she did no such thing. She kept walking. I didn't know she was walking toward me.
She crossed the intersection, opened the passenger door, and got in. For the first time, I realized that I drive with my doors unlocked.
“My friend told me I should go with you,” she said. “That doesn't sound like much of a friend,” I responded. “What?” she said, already slumping in the passenger seat.
She told me not to be afraid. Her slurred voice reinforced my fear that my freshly second-hand interior would end up covered in whatever made her drunk. I asked her where she lived. She said it was nearby, but she'd rather not go there, it's too boring. She wondered if I had somewhere she could stay instead.
She was dressed more modestly than she spoke, but her picture was worth a thousand of her words. She had tights, a fashionable coat, and hair that was several dances past did. She was a trophy that a frat boy would proudly mount on his headboard. And she had spontaneously walked out of the fog and into my car.
She told me her name, which I forget. I told her mine, which I imagine she forgets. She made a sound dangerously similar to nausea. I asked again about her home, and she said it was nearby, but reiterated that it was boring. She asked about my home, and I said it was nearby. I didn't say it was boring.
I pulled into my apartment's parking lot and stopped my car. “This is me,” I said, final yet transitional. “I live near here,” she said, telling me the street. “I could walk home later.”
At the time, I would've called myself “single and looking,” but I didn't understand what I was looking for. Unsatisfied with my dating, I imagined that impersonal conquest would make me happier. But here, in my car, outside my apartment, was a conquest. A conquest without any battle. Without any meaning. Without any dignity.
I started my car. I drove to the street she mentioned, and asked which house was hers. She told me. I let her out, and watched as she fumbled for her keys and let herself in. I turned on the interior light and breathed a sigh of relief at the clean seat.
Afterwards, I thought about this interaction. I wondered what kind of “friend” would encourage a drunk girl to walk through a foggy intersection and into a stranger's car. I wondered what conversation inspired her to step into the street, and if getting into my car was escape or revenge. But, most of all, I wondered why I'd wished for a catch without a chase.
Years later, I'm not the person I was on that fall night. This random girl's actions were just that, but understanding my own actions helped illuminate myself. Looking back, I see that I found inspiration even in the spontaneous events of St. John's roads. Maybe that's why I'll always be a writer.