That Magical Place Called the Car

There’s something magic about riding in a car. I’m not talking about the physics of how the car gets itself from point A to point B — my brain hurts just thinking about that — but about the mysterious way stress often melts away in there. 

My parents separated my junior year of high school, and as a teenager that was a great amount of emotion to process. Instead of going straight home after a practice or game, I’d take the long way — blasting my Matchbox Twenty, belting out the lyrics as loud as I could … crying if it was needed. I’m sure I made quite the scene, but luckily I was driving dark, backwood Alabama roads which I often didn’t share with anyone else. 

Except when I did, and my girlfriends and I would fly down the long dirt road to my house, singing “Free Fallin’” at the top of our lungs, top off the old red Jeep, and the world was ours. 

There were road trips to the beach with my parents, listening to Sue Grafton mysteries when books on tape were a relatively new concept, stopping at Peach Park for ice cream on the way, my sister and I strapped in the backseat most definitely annoying one another.

Then there were road trips with my husband when we were dating, and we’d alternate between some of the best conversations we’ve ever had and singing Dashboard Confessional songs like they belonged only to us. 

As I’ve grown older, I still consider the car a sacred space. My husband and I still have great conversations on our drives back and forth to Alabama. I’ve fallen in love with podcasts and still have a love of audiobooks, and listening to them while driving by myself is what I consider “quality alone time.” 

But now I also have the pleasure of quality time with my daughters. It seems there’s a magic for them, as well. You see, unless the drive will take more than an hour, there are no screens allowed in the car. That’s always been a rule. And though they sometimes push back against it, for the most part it works. 

It’s where they both sing out loud on our drive each morning — and I let them choose the music, so we mostly alternate between Taylor Swift and Disney tunes. We lift their spirits before they embark on their day — and then I get the rundown each afternoon.

It’s where my oldest seems the most comfortable divulging her feelings — it’s where she first confessed her realization about certain Christmas logistics — and years later when she wanted to quit dance. She hops in the car each afternoon and gives me the highlight reel. 

My youngest loves to tell me what she ate for lunch, what she played at recess, and what they did in their ‘special course,’ whether it be gym, art, music, computers, or community class. Usually in that order. Then I get the juicy info, like that Kate “wore a hat like from the ‘Home Alone’ movie” and Dylan brought cupcakes instead of ice cream for his class birthday. 

There’s something magic about the car. It’s where I still love to belt out my favorite songs and for a moment be young and carefree again. It’s where my husband and I can still chat about anything and everything. In the car is where I know my daughters will talk about what’s important and what’s not-so-important. It’s where I plot out what I want to write each week. 

Some people consider themselves beach people, others mountain people, but I think I might just be a car person. Give me some good music, an open road, and one of my favorite people next to me, and I’m beyond happy. 

* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on January 23, 2021 *

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