Short Story: The Life-Changing Magic of Crawling Home on the Freeway

“I thought, is this really what I want my life to be? Where I’m racing through it, instead of living it? What a life of speed, busyness, distraction, multitasking, stimulation, impatience does is wall you off from who you are. You become your to-do list. You become a ‘human doing’ instead of a human being.”

— Carl Honoré, author of The Power of Slow

**Inspired by the many hours I spent out on the road as a Lyft driver. This story is narrated from the POV of a twenty-something male. He and his girlfriend are on their way home from a road trip when their tire ruptures. Since it’s a holiday and no stores are open, the gas station employee suggests that they use their donut tire— which is usually only meant for short distances—and that they drive no faster than 45 mph in order to ensure functionality.

Though initially disgruntled by this directive, the man soon discovers that crawling towards home isn’t so bad after all. In fact, it may have been just what he and his girlfriend needed.

~~

Dear Gas Station Employee,

A few days ago, my girlfriend and I stopped by your business. We’d just spent the weekend up in Oregon, and were headed down the I-5 back towards our home in Sacramento when our tire ruptured.

All the regular stores were closed because it was a holiday, so we found our way to you. You told us to use our donut tire for the remainder of the journey home. You said it would require driving around 20 miles per hour slower.

“I’d say go no faster than 45. Hug the side of the road,” you gently suggested.

At that point I grumbled to Mariana (girlfriend) that it was just our luck to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Mariana ran her hands through my hair in response. She told me it crunched as her fingers passed through it–damp in some places, dryer in other– reminding her of a pile of stuck-together cornflakes with maple syrup poured on top.

 “We’re not stranded,” she replied soothingly. “He just said go slow. That’s doable, Babe.

My face scrunched itself up. “Do you know how pathetic I’ll look going 45 on a 70 mph freeway? Cars are gona honk at me. My stress headaches will come back.”

They won’t be honking at you, they’ll be honking at us,” she reassured.

While we waited for the tire to be installed, Mariana took out her notebook and started drawing. When I looked over I saw that her partially finished sketch was of a baby. The baby wore diapers (as babies do). The baby was driving a car. 

Mariana explained to me, “This is who you are to me right now.” 

I replied that she’d gotten my nose all wrong. Then crossing my arms I continued: 

I’ve tried it before, Mariana. I’ll start off slow, I’ll be good at it for a few minutes… and then I space out for a second, just one single second, and suddenly the pedal’s at 75 again. It feels like I can’t even help it! It just creeps back up on its own.” 

 “It creeps back up because you space out. So don’t. I can help with that. With keeping you alert.

She added: “Besides, this will be some good ‘us’ time. Really take things down a notch. It’s you and me. Soul to soul, Babe.”

She again tussled my cornflakey hair.

We got in the car and headed towards the freeway, passing a strip mall or two on the way, and skeletal trees. I told everyone around us, as we entered the on ramp, to look out because Grandpa was coming through.

From there on we fell into somewhat of a rhythm. Every time I went over the speed limit, sometimes Mariana would tap my leg. Other times she’d scream “TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE GAS PEDAL!” Still other times she’d loudly sing Demi Lovato. Basically she’d do whatever it took to jolt me back into my senses (while also annoying the shit out of me).

We caught more details, ones we probably wouldn’t have noticed before.

The cars that honked at us or huffily sped up, making a big show of how inconvenienced they were—she and I compared to them to hurried white men at banks, the ones who periodically sighed and very obviously checked their watches.

Another driver honked for a full twenty seconds while flipping us off–left hand on the horn, right hand in the air. Not the customary ambush of multiple successive distinct honks, but a single long one. 

He’s got no hands left to drive,” I remarked in mock worried response to the dual gesture. Mariana’s response was to blow him a kiss.

As our crawl towards home continued, we noticed a Trump sign blowing in the wind to our right. Nestled between corn-stalks, it jutted out incongruously (but also not) from the farmland surrounding it. We were driving slowly enough to deluge it with raw eggs (which Mariana had insisted on saving rather than leave behind in the hotel fridge).

 Anyways, your advice was great, Man. Mariana turned out to be right. And that she was by my side—the whole time with her feet up against the glove compartment and her obnoxious “bless your souls” uttered to every driver who honked at us—made all the difference.

After we passed the Trump sign, every time the odometer crept up past 50, she threw an egg at me. I’m not even kidding. That’s Mariana for you. The woman I fell for and chose as my partner💝

When we pulled up to the house my hair was still a frothy, yolky mess. Like the moon had melted into it. A creamy lather that I brought with me to the shower.

I think it’s accurate to say that our culture has difficulty with slowing down. Staying at a moderate pace requires conscious thought. Deliberate action. Even enduring criticism and backlash from the people we’ve disappointed by departing from the status quo.

The ride made me realize that I don’t think our natural impulse is necessarily to go fast. At least, it’s not everyone’s. Rather, some of us do because the people around us enforce this standard. If we veer off, they seek to pull us back into their agreed-upon way of operating by yelling, shaming, or any other number of tactics.

Despite our valid reasons for reducing our speed, the other drivers on the road saw Mariana and me as an obstacle. A hindrance. Inconsiderate, even. Because we were inconveniencing them, they assumed we were doing something wrong.

Faced with such pressure and backlash, it’s tempting to revert back to the old way— yet we didn’t. Instead of giving in, we tuned them out and stood our ground. We stuck to what we knew was the right decision for ourselves in our own journey. What’s right might not be popular, and it damn sure isn’t easy.

By the end, I felt calmer–with a renewed faith not just in my ability to control my driving speed, but also in the strength and vitality of my and Mariana’s relationship. 

So I just wanted to say thank you, Man. For reminding me how to use a muscle I’d neglected for too long. One I wasn’t even consciously interested in strengthening before. And now I make a genuine effort to use it every day. You gave me a pretty sweet gift without even realizing it.

When you said “go slow,” it annoyed me at first. But now the phrase is rolling around in my mind. It’s massaging the pink folds (gross image, I know). And I think I want to try keep it up there forever, at least in some shape or form.

Sincerely,

A Formerly Disgruntled now Grateful Customer

**Thanks for reading and follow us on IG @lyft_tales to stay updated on new posts 🙂

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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