More than any other mostly inevitable part of life, being in the car has always been my favorite.
I love the feel of the steering wheel turning in my fingers, the smell of a fall evening coming through my rolled-down windows and the mix of the no-limits conversation and let’s-belt-it-at-the-top-of-our-lungs singing. I love riding in the passenger seat, feet up on the dash and my ponytail flying outside the window.
Yeah, I love being in the car. But the reason isn’t the car. It’s a person.
While I’m sure it happened before then, the first car ride I remember with my dad was when I was six years old. We went to the furniture store – I told my dad I was his “opinion-ator,” and after he lovingly told me that wasn’t a word, he obliged my insistence on using it.
There was never any space for silence on those rides. Not because we feared the awkwardness, but because we never ran out of things to say. We didn’t necessarily say “I love you;” the political debates, soccer tips and Johnny Cash lyrics said it for us.
I remember the repetition of the rides: my dad’s chuckle when he was secretly proud of me for saying something cynical, his desire to hear and talk about my newest poem and his angry expletives (sorry, dad) when – distracted by our talking – he accidentally cut someone off.
No matter how angry I was with him, I was the first to volunteer to run errands. If only for a chance to be his shotgun rider. He cared way too much about explaining directions and teaching me driving etiquette – “This is a merging lane, you’re supposed to accelerate!” – but I lived for the hour and a half with him to myself.
I started driving, quickly and selfishly choosing the drive as far away from home as often as I could, over the ones with my dad. I went to college, and now my dad’s car and mine share a driveway just 20 days of the year.
And yet, at 22 years old, groggy and napping on my parent’s couch, I still jump at my dad’s car-ride invitations. A trip to the dump, out to lunch or two states away – it doesn’t matter. I’m there.
My dad still obliges my silly rants and preference for Sheryl Crow road trip playlists. I oblige his tangents about the danger of political correctness and his insistence at stopping only for Sheetz’s coffee.
I don’t think he’s perfect like I did when I was six; I’m not the adorable, wide-eyed girl with pigtails and lots of “Whys?” anymore either. Our words wind together like the curves in the road and we, sometimes awkwardly, try to fill the space of the car and time with the familiarity of each other – a dad and a daughter.
Blurred together like the lights streaking alongside the nighttime highway, we find a way.
And, alone in his passed-down Honda Civic, 217 miles from my old home, I roll the windows down and let Sheryl or Johnny fill the silence. More often than not, I call my dad.