too many words by laura lemay


I had business to do in San Francisco the other day, so like thousands of other people do every morning I got in my car and fought my way up the peninsula, fought my way through the smog and the traffic from one freeway to the next, from one dirty city intersection to the next, and then fought my way into a parking space. I didn’t have much business to do, not even worth the trip, actually, but it had to be done, and once it was done by midmorning I found myself feeling tired and worn and beaten.

I was sitting in my car at the intersection of Geary and Fillmore, waiting to turn left. Left back to Van Ness and then back to 101, back to Silicon Valley, back to work again to finish my day and meet my deadlines. It was a bright May day, the sort of beautiful temperate late spring day in the city where the weather is actually not too cold and not too hot, no fog to cloud the sky, just blue blue blue and and light and warmth and yellow sun.

Cars were stacking up on the left side of the intersection, to the left on Geary where I was going to be turning. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to go down to Van Ness and 101 and back to work. More fighting to be done, I sighed, more driving, more push push push and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

I looked out the right side, out to the West, toward the coast, where there was no traffic at all.

What do deadlines mean, really? a little voice said. It seemed to be coming from my car. The work gets done, eventually, doesn’t it? What’s a few hours? I found myself suddenly smiling, no, grinning, as something inside me went plink and I abruptly shifted into reverse, backed out of the left turn lane, and turned right.

West on Geary went away from the freeway, toward the coast and the beaches, and toward Highway 1, twisty twisty Highway 1, the very long way home. I felt like I was running away, I felt like I was skipping school, I felt wicked and I FELT GREAT.

Four lights down Geary: One to unlatch the car top, one to put the back window down, one to find my hat and my sunglasses in the glovebox, and the final one to fold the car top down. The woman behind me in the nice sedan gave me a look of dismay as the top came down. Oh. You have a convertible. Yes. I have a convertible. And this is what it wants.

On the beach side of the city the sky was still clear but I was not the only one who was playing hooky; the road was crowded and it took a few miles of southward travel before the traffic opened up, before everything — the road and the air and and the sky and the car — all came together. From then on there was little traffic as I drove south, and what few cars I encountered I easily passed.

Do people who are not car people get this? This sense of the perfect day, the perfect road, the perfect place, an almost glorious joy of driving where there are no missed shifts, no hesitations, where every tight corner is executed perfectly and there are no slow RVs hiding around the bend?

For miles I kept the ocean on my right, cliffs and scrubby brush and rolling hills on my left. Once I turned a sweeping left-hander near Pacifica and the whole hillside around the turn was flung wide with splashes of wildflowers, bright California poppies and wild lupines, the magnificent orange and blue mix that only occurs for a few weeks at this time of year. There was a light wind, a warm wind, not enough to be annoying, and it passed in waves over the flowers, stirring them this way and that as I passed on.

Three times I had to make a decision, to turn back from the coast, to go back over the mountains, to go back home. There were three roads that would take me there. Each time I assumed I would run into fog, into cooler weather, that I would become bored of the drive, that I would encounter slow drivers that would ruin the mood. It didn’t happen in Half Moon bay at Highway 92; it didn’t happen at Highway 84 at Pescadero, and it didn’t happen at the nearly unmarked Bonny Doon road. I drove all the way to Santa Cruz, with the weather and the road and the perfect sense of well-being still on my side, stopped in town for a late lunch at a little cafe, and then drove back up the mountain freeway home, arriving in mid-afternoon just as the sun was setting, just in time to crack open a beer and sit out on the porch listening to the bees hum.

If I want to get any work done in the future on bright warm spring days I will have to put my guard up and not listen to little voices coming from my car. If there are more days like that and more drives like the glorious California coastline my car can make an awfully convincing argument.