This Side Up

Rewards of a night drive


Midnight rides can be the worst and, then again, they can be the best.

Actually Ted and I got on the road while it was still light, but we knew this was going to be a long haul and it wouldn’t be until the early morning hours that we’d reach our destination in upstate New York. Ted has a truck and a trailer. It’s just what we needed for a collection of furniture including a couch he had from his college days to a footstool that I picked up alongside the road to furnish a cottage that will be occupied in the next two weeks.

We loaded everything up Saturday evening with the thought of leaving early the next morning. We’d make the drop and then turn around and head back to Rhode Island. It would be eight, maybe nine hours to make the round trip if we were lucky and didn’t hit traffic.

With everything tied down, Carol looked at the rig and suggested, “Maybe you should leave tonight.” Ted’s wife, Erica, thought it was a good plan. We’d avoid the traffic, arrive about 1 a.m. but be able to sleep later in the morning before taking on the task of lifting furniture.

Ted and I didn’t need convincing. Ted packed up a few overnight items and brewed two mugs of black coffee.

With advice to “drive carefully,” and “stay awake,” and promises we’d text when we arrived, we took to the road.

“What’s your music,” asked Ted as soon as we were on the highway. While I like classical, Ted concluded it was too tranquil to keep us alert. He put on some Buffet that soon transitioned to a series of singers and songs in that genre. By the time we crossed the state line, night closed in although at this time of year it’s never as dark as mid-winter nights. The moon, which we didn’t see until the clouds cleared west of Albany, also saved us from the feeling of an inky passage.

Once on the Mass Pike, Ted decided since we were in a truck that we should fit the stereotype and listen to Country Music. Some lyrics had us chuckling. Pumped up on caffeine and tuned into one musical story after the next – frequently cause for comment – the miles slipped by, the furniture getting that much closer to its destination.

There’s much to be said for midnight rides like that we made. Whether alone, with someone else or even as a family they can be intimate passages with one’s own thoughts or a shared experience separated from what’s beyond the car. The yellow line and the ribbon of headlights in the opposite lane take the place of the passing scenery.

I don’t recall how old I was, maybe 6, when as a family we made a return trip from Michigan. We needed to catch a ferry and we were driving through the night. The pressure of a deadline, the excitement of being awake so late and being included in my parents’ conversation while my sister slept is a feeling I won’t forget.

But midnight rides can be nightmares, too.

One came during my college years as I drove a Hudson Jet, the forerunner to the compact car, that I bought for $200. I was driving it across country. I had company for part of the way and we shared the driving, but when I reached the mid-west I was on my own. My plan was to drive as far as I could, catch some winks when I needed it and carry on. This is not a recipe for a desirably memorable trip.

I was on a straight stretch of road in Nebraska at two in the morning, windows open and the radio blaring to keep me awake, when I drifted off to sleep. This had happened to me on one or two occasions for what must have been a split second. I’d snap awake, so startled by what had just happened that it would have been impossible to go to sleep if I tried.

That didn’t happen this time.

The banging on the car awakened me. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. The one headlight still working reflected a wall of flying green. I frantically stood on the brake. The car came to a stop. I had driven off the road and into a cornfield.

Fortunately, our midnight ride Saturday wasn’t as dramatic. By midnight we were on Route 20 and pretty much had the road to ourselves. Ted turned off the music.

We both know this road. The villages we drove through were asleep. We drove in silence, both knowing it wouldn’t be long before we reached our destination, a place to sleep and rewarded by the intimacy of a midnight ride.


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Delightful, John. Have made many of those kinds of trips myself. Thanks for taking us along on this one.

Friday, June 8, 2018