A road stretches out before me a dotted white line to one side and a solid one to the other marking the lane I travel in, both fading into the black of the night. The direction I travel is irrelevant as is the final destination, too distant to be of any consequence. All that exists is the driving, the traveling.
I am not alone in the car, for if I was my thoughts would venture ahead to faces I would see, what I would say and how I would feel at being with them. As everything I could look forward to is already with me, albeit silent and sleeping, I don't think. I watch the lines on the road slowly emerge from the night, conscious enough to switch lanes when I need to overtake a slower vehicle, or mark the slow progression of one that will eventually over take me, move forward along the dotted line until their white headlights are replaced with the glowing red tail lights and eventually even those disappear into the night.
Across the divided road, cars and trucks travel in the opposite direction. I know they exist, but they have no more bearing on the passing of time as the stars in the sky which may be visible, but are completely cloaked from my consciousness. The dashboard glows, illuminating the speedometer, the odometer, the steering wheel and my hand upon it. Perhaps it illuminates my face into some ghastly expressionless apparition, but I have no mirror to know, or care even if I did. I am traveling; that is all there is.
At some point I pass a road sign marking a distance to some future point of reference. I mark the speedometer, the odometer and the time. A quick calculation comes up with a meaningless point of checkpoint arrival. The distance is too great for any accuracy and the distant point irrelevant, but I play the game anyway. When, at some future point, I pass another road sign with another distance marker, I will recalculate and make any adjustments to my initial estimate if need be. Until then, there is no more thought of it. The game is played, not like chess, endlessly calculating moves with adjustments to the board responding to an opponent, but by making a decision, then letting the pieces land where they may --the less thought the better. It is, like the road sign, just a marker, a way to ensure I am still traveling.
In the night there is the sound of the engine and perhaps the hum of the wheels along the asphalt. Like the lines fading into the night, these sounds disappear from my world. My ears no longer care to hear anything external. Inside my head there are different sounds, first a single line and then a collection of interlocking dots to weave a pattern. I may hum aloud or I may just let the dots weave internally for a while. Regardless, the patterns continue to flow over and over again. They travel with me along the road making their own roads just as endless.
Eventually, a repetition occurs, a pattern my mind settles on as pleasing. This becomes a touch point, a place of return --a familiar face, from where I can venture into new variations and back again, a ritornello. I play the theme and variations game, the subject and episodes dance until something about them screams to be heard, to be remembered. The dots press their way from the deep internal into the fully, calculating consciousness.
"Calculate the rhythm, mark the intervals, know the line," they cry. So I do.
I reconstruct the main theme meticulously imagining the tapping of my foot on the gas pedal, marking the dots passing by in the night. One, two, three, four, five, no, only three and something. Is it four? Not quite. Divide the beats into two, One, two, Three, four, Five, six, Seven, but no, that isn't quite right either. There are three beats then two, then another three, three, three and two. Thirteen beats in all. I replay the figure, counting and recounting. Thirteen is right, but only for the first couple of iterations. Then the phrase adds a segment to stretch to sixteen or perhaps seventeen. Recalculate and confirm, seventeen --two sets of thirteen and then seventeen for a total of forty-one.
A smile crosses my face as if I have won the lottery. The winning number is forty-one. For a while I allow the newly discovered melody to float in my head, to revel in its discovery. However, as the miles continue, it too fades into the night. the board is reset and the dots and lines begin a new journey.
Welcome to the darker recesses of my mind. The above "story" is what I experience on late night drives, of which I have taken many. My family used to travel from Monterey CA to Cheyenne WY (and back again) nearly every year for the 15+ years we lived in California. This was a trip back to visit family and generally done straight through, often departing Monterey at 7-8pm on Friday after a days work. So, I needed something to "entertain" me and keep me awake through the long night. Oddly enough, as much as I love music, I'm not a big fan of the radio and even tapes or CD's don't really work for me in the car. There is too much traveling through my head.