I live 45 minutes from my Pilates class.
I live 1 hour and 10 minutes from my Spin class.
That's a lot of opportunities to turn around and say fuck it, but each morning and a few evenings, I put on my skintight workout pants, pour a cold brew (with sweet cream), and pile in my car. I plug my phone into the car stereo and hit PLAY.
I round the corner, blow past the stop sign because no cop, no stop, and get on the highway.
I lean my right arm on the console, sip on the coffee, and find my way in between the 18-wheelers and the work trucks. There’s the girl who’s driving too slow because she’s texting. There’s the guy I’m sure has weed because he’s vaping hardcore and cruising 65 on the dot in the right lane.
I blow past all of them in the left lane – 89 miles an hour down a flat-land highway edged with worn out barbed wire. My radar detector chirps, I fall to 73, and push back down at the last chirp.
I put my left foot in the seat, lean my knee on the door, and sigh.
It’s a long way to drive for an ass beating, but here I am – passing a distant Starbucks, HomeGoods, and three Targets.
I play window-version Mario Kart with a trapped mosquito – I roll down the left window, he moves to the right; I roll down the right window and he whizzes over my head. Little bastard.
With my next sigh, the track changes. I hear a few familiar chords and Chris Cornell.
I don't mind stealin' bread from the mouths of decadents But I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled, yeah
With a new sigh, I join in when the chorus drops. Eddie Vedder comes in and the two grow louder and louder down this flat highway.
Two men hang from the side of an electric tower and I smile. Their hard hats reflect in the morning light, their arms twist and turn, their lines carefully holding them in place.
Chris Cornell belts. Eddie drops low. I sink into my seat.
For a brief moment, I close my eyes and hold my breath. The car does not pull or sway.
The music continues on a loop and I open my eyes.
I hear a rustle, a flick of a lighter, and I mouth along with Eddie,
Blood is on the table and the mouths are all chokin’
The car's engine hums behind the music, my foot falls back to the floorboard, and the mosquito is now still – legs concave against the glass, antennae pulsating.
I nod my head to the drums.
There is another rustle, and I look at the passenger seat: He is lighting a pipe, nodding his head to the drums. His light brown hair is moving towards the cracked window. His knee slightly taps beneath ripped jeans and Billabong t-shirt.
I roll my window down and the mosquito’s opening act is complete.
I speed up, turn up the song as high as it will go, my hair flies out the window.
I look over and he is smiling at the hair in my face, shakes his head, flicks the lighter.
With my sigh of relief, he inhales.
I whisper, you'll remember to play this one at my funeral, won't you?
He rolls his eyes, blows smoke out the crack of the window, smiles at the flat highway.
We fly now, between two white lines, barely tasting reality.
I rest my head against the seat and stare at him, a ghost now – just a fading profile I could perfectly trace with my finger in midair. He is a memory of a life before, where back country roads and rolled-down windows were the only reason to leave home in the middle of the night.
Put it on 'Hunger Strike', I’d point.
With a click and thump against an old Mazda radio, he’d fire up a blown speaker, and turn down a tree-lined winding road. My long, curly hair twisted out the window, the vodka between my thighs still cold from the freezer.
I'm goin’ hungry, I’d scream, doing my best to meet Chris Cornell, but he’d shake his head and grin over at me.
I continued, playing air guitar on my boobs, laughing, and dropping low to meet Eddie.
No, I don’t mind stealin’ bread, I'd sing - pushing my lips against his beard, willing him to crack a smile.
After the third repeat, he’d park at Crane’s property line and shine headlights against a rusted barbed wire fence to see Crane’s weekly kill.
A dead wolf hung by a jaw, we nodded to the song with closed eyes, and rolled smoke until the vodka was gone.
I look over at the passenger seat, forcing myself to see a reminder of lost days and long nights.
He glitches in the seat like a current, carefully circulating within itself. His current loops.
He is now just a glimpse of my old life, only visible when reality can be put in my rearview for an hour at a time.
I see now that this stretch of highway is worth the miles and that maybe it’s not the working out I need – maybe it’s the drive.
Dedicated to the late Chris Cornell, to my truck-driving friend Mike, and to…him
HUNGER STRIKE lyrics by Christopher J. Cornell