This is the first draft of a series of stories I’m writing about cars and our relationship with them. I hope you enjoy it. I would love some feedback.
Nathan looked out the window into the darkness. The mucus colored glow of his daytime running lights lit up a patch of snow stretching from the driveway to the kitchen window where he was standing. A trail of exhaust rose from behind his car like smoke from a wood burning stove, conjuring up memories from his rural Canadian childhood. As a kid, seeing the smoke rise from a dozen chimneys in either direction of his family’s one acre lot was the tell-tale sign of the change in season and the coming holiday break. What was once a source of childish excitement had become little more than a reminder of the long season ahead and all the problems it usually brings. Last winter he needed his battery boosted twice, his timing belt replaced and during one of several late nights spent shoveling the driveway of his tiny apartment, his car had been clipped by a passing snow plow and had to have some serious reconstruction done to its tail end. Insurance covered that one.
On the counter behind him, the coffee maker spat and gargled out the last drips of his morning brew, dark like the outside world on this particular December morning. Before the final drips had finished filling the pot, he was pouring his morning fuel into his aluminum thermos like he’d always done leaving the last drops of breakfast to evaporate as they landed on the Brewmaster’s element.
Nathan wasn’t much for routines and considered his daily pre-work activities more of a ritual than anything else. To him the word ritual had a better ring to it and implied an almost religious connotation whereas a routine, well, that just sounded too prearranged, too premeditated and far too close to something he’d always associated with old folks. With his forties drawing ever-closer, he was in a constant state of attempting to put distance between him and any article, action or intention that may resemble that of a full grown, functioning adult. His wife Janice referred to it simply as denial and she was probably right.
With his lunch packed and his thermos of coffee stuffed safely into his computer bag, Nathan began the second phase of his morning ritual – the drive to work. Always underdressed, he threw on his hoodie, ball cap and sneakers and stepped out into the cool morning air, soaking both his feet in ankle-deep slush as he walked to the car.
As he began making his way through the cramped downtown streets, Nathan launched into his daily automotive dialog – a ritualized soliloquy that focused almost exclusively on weather conditions and the inability or irresponsibility of other morning commuters.
And he had a particular distaste for people who parked on the side of the street affectively narrowing the area available for motorists unfortunate enough to pass one another in those locations.
“Fuckin’ streets,” he said to himself. “If it was any tighter I’d have to grease the car up to squeeze through. Way to park, asshole.”
His grip tightened on the wheel as he navigated between parked cars and oncoming traffic approaching at the same slow crawl as his advance. The dashboard heater of his ’97 Corolla stretched and relaxed in unison with the car’s engine and with it, the amount of heat it threw. Nathan couldn’t wait to get on the freeway so the heater could open full-bore and take the chill from his finger tips.
“Fuck this cold weather,” he said as he fiddled with the sliders on his dashboard heater trying to find a balance that would help remove the haze forming on his windshield while maintaining some sort of warmth.
As he neared the merging lane that would guide him onto the highway, Nathan could see the road ahead was covered in snow and slush and prepared for the usually lack of traction these conditions kindly provided.
“Where the fuck are all the plows,” he said to himself as his glance quickly skipped from his rearview mirror to he driver’s side mirror, over his shoulder and back in the direction he was heading.
Once he had successfully completed his merger into the traffic his drive always seemed to improve. The long stretch of road and the even flow of traffic was a pleasure after navigating the tiny thoroughfares near his apartment.
As his exit approached he began preparations for what was almost always a slippery stretch – one that has tried time and time again to pull him off the pavement and into the ditch. At least once a week someone was parked nose-down, their rear wheels dangling just above the roadside. This exit took no prisoners and had claimed many a victim during the coldest months of the year.
“Not this time,” Nathan muttered in a Hollywood tone, briefly imagining himself as a toothpick chewing protagonist is some big budget film about Canadian winter driving. The thought brought a smile to his face as he slowly followed the off ramp’s curve making sure not to get too close the edge of the pavement.
“As if,” he said. “Who the hell would make a movie about Canadian winters?”
The idea was enough to distract him momentarily from his bitter venting. He loved the idea of making himself laugh out loud and it was something he did often, just about every morning.
“I bet the National Film Board would throw money at something stupid like that,” he said as the wipers smeared snow and ice across his line of sight.
“Ah fuck! These wipers suck!”
He was now within sight of his office as he slowed to a crawl in the turning lane, often the last straw for his morning patience. Car after car passed by. The long line of oncoming headlights stretched out before him like a giant string of Christmas lights. He sat, not-so-patiently waiting for a break in the chain long enough to allow him to make the left turn into the company parking lot.
“C’mon,” muttered, turning down the radio to embrace the full effect of his anger. “Which one of you assholes is going to let me in?”
Every morning it was different. He waited and watched the traffic pass. Usually after sitting with his blinker on for what felt like a minute or two, he’d start to count the cars as a way of passing the time until he found a large enough gap in the flow to squeeze through. And always, once he’d made it across the line of cars and into his parking spot he’d wish the number of cars he counted was much larger as it would certainly prove to be good conversation fodder in the lunch room. Every morning he resolved to begin counting sooner and every morning he forgot, distracted by the one-man show he put on for himself as he sat behind the wheel.
“Morning Nathan,” said the office receptionist as Nathan opened the door and stepped inside. “How was your drive this morning?”
“Hey Betty,” he said, smiling as he hung up his coat. “It was fine. The roads aren’t too bad at all. It was actually a pretty easy drive in this morning.”
His ritual done for another day.