When I was about six or eight in the early 1960s, my family drove from our home in California to New York City to visit my mother's family. My father had a passion for the road that was a mark of the intellectually adventurous in those days, and he periodically devised some terribly long drive that involved cramming my two brothers and myself into the back seat of our red station wagon, and then burying my mother under bags of snack food, thermoses and games in the front seat. Once we were all in, my father would cock his beret and light a cigarette, letting it hang suspensefully off his lower lip while we all coughed from the smoke, already hating the long, sweaty drive ahead while at the same time, in spite of ourselves, enjoying a little of the romance of going On the Road.
As we pulled away from the house, my mother gave us each a Hershey's chocolate bar. My younger brother had eaten his before we made the end of the block. I broke mine into squares to be eaten each time we passed a 100-mile mark. My older brother saved his to eat when we arrived on the other end.
With stops for diners, motels with swimming pools, and historical sites, the drive took three weeks. Besides fighting for space, giggling to annoy our parents and playing word games, there wasn't much to do in the back seat. I started to imagine stories about the cars around us: that one seemed to be sad and staying close to us for company; that one was aggressive and trying to one-up us. The big truck was bored and tooting its horn to stay awake; the little car was skittish, nervous about... some crime?
There was one car, a small-to-mid-sized, plain car--with four doors, a little dusty, white--that drove near us for a very long time. Sometimes in front of us, sometimes in back; sometimes I would think it was gone and then, oh, it would appear on the left, or on the right. Other cars would stay near for some time, and then take off in the fast lane, or otherwise move off. I began to enjoy its companionship, as if it knew what we were up to and was on a serendipitously parallel path. I imagined us pulling up at my grandparents' apartment in Queens, and seeing this car pull up at its destination at a building right across the street from us. We were all going together, and we would all arrive together, waving, full of smiles and a silent, shared sense of pleasure.
After five or six hours, the white car merged onto a different highway, onto a road on the right that banked gently enough that I could watch it go for a minute or so, as if it were in slow motion. We kept going straight. I fixed the image of its going in my mind's eye, determined to store it as if it would steel me for what was to come.