We go down the road like that, 100, 105 miles an hour, exit after exit, weaving in between cars, the two of us together. I often find buddies on the interstate to make my way through traffic with, but none like this before. He’s not like me, I can’t just stomp the gas and expect my car to immediately speed up, nor can I hope to go anywhere near as fast as he can. I’ve got one thing he doesn’t, though: instinct. He gets trapped behind some beat up old car, a Le Baron maybe, and I speed past him, thinking maybe our fun is over.
The difference between me and a racer is that a racer doesn’t have to make a conscious decision to speed away from a car he’s left in his dust, it’s just his natural tendency. Me, I realize that I’m not behind the Charger anymore, so I probably shouldn’t be doing 100 miles an hour anymore. I slow down and soon I’ve come upon heavier traffic than what I’d seen at any point before. As I slow down, I take a look in my rear view mirror. There he is, speeding up behind me.
We begin to weave through cars at breakneck speeds like it’s nothing. My speedometer is going crazy, from 75 to 90, from 80 to 110. This is what I liked about having to go from Statesboro to Newnan so often, this is what made the trip worthwhile. I’m in the far right lane and I zip past a light blue ’89 Tercel that’s been sitting on the side of 85 for a month or two, and I wonder how many times in the course of human history two cars of the same make, model, and color have hit each other on the road. No time to ponder it, the Charger’s getting ahead, and I pull up close behind him.
I wonder if he notices me the way I notice him. Surely he does. I wonder if he wonders how in the world a piece of shit 87 Toyota is keeping up with him like this. Instinct, I tell him. I wonder if he feels the same comradery that I do. He must. My thoughts begin to drift again, as we hit the open road and the roar of our engines the wave of sonic outburst from LRD wash over us. My mom told me she heard about a hostage situation in Statesboro the other day. “Good,” I replied. “Maybe it’ll give ‘em something to talk about there.” I can’t be bothered with the problems of that town anymore, I’m in Atlanta, this city is mine and Statesboro’s far behind me, like all of those chumps me and the Charger have left behind.
We hit the I-75/I-85 merger, a two lane bridge bending slightly to the left and combining the two biggest interstates in the state into one massive freeway. The Charger gets in the right lane and moves in fast on this minivan doing about 55, while I stay in the left lane and pull up close to an Excursion doing 70. We move up to his left, first the Excursion and then me, and for a moment, we’re side by side. I glance over and get my first look at the man behind the wheel. A business man, it looks like, or maybe just a guy who likes wearing suits. They exist, you know. He looks over briefly, too, and I nod, a gesture of respect. I notice the Excursion is getting well ahead of the minivan, and I speed up, shoot through the gap between the two cars and floor it, going down the bridge at about 95. I look back and see the Charger’s still stuck behind the minivan, but I can’t concern myself with him now. The difference between me and a racer is that a racer doesn’t have to make a conscious decision to speed away from a car he’s left in his dust, it’s just his natural tendency. Right now, I want to be a racer.
Just like that, the Charger is well behind me, and I’ll never see him again. In the past few months, I’ve been behind the wheel more than any person should probably ever be. This plight wasn’t a solitary one, but it was quite personal, and each little thing I’ve come across along the way has left its mark, even the Charger. He’s down the end of the highway I’m not visiting again, a thing of the past, like my school days in Newnan and those crazy summers me and my friends would spend together, hanging out as much as possible and hoping that this year we’d be in each other’s classes; like all those relationships and the girls who tickled my fancy: Leah, Casey, Ivy, their memories not too bitter and not too sweet; like Statesboro, the place where I’d lost my direction and where I’d lost my hope. The only thing that’s ahead of me now is the towering skyline of Atlanta, the place where I’ll find all of it again.
I get off on the Carter Center exit, 248C, and the directions begin to flow into my head. Left on Moreland, right on Ponce de Leon. I’m sitting at the stop light at the intersection of Freedom Parkway and Boulevard Northeast, “Night of the Assassins” blasting in my face, when my eyes happen to wander over my rear view, then suddenly freeze. An 06 Dodge Charger is pulling in behind me. I smile. It’s not the same car, this one is black, and the driver is considerably older. Still, I smile. As I gaze into its headlights in my mirror, I notice in my peripheral vision that the light has turned green and the person in front of me has left off their brakes. I shift my eyes to the road ahead, hit the gas and let up on the clutch. I’m making the last little bit of my trip, traveling the last few miles to my new home.