It probably wasn’t a good idea, she’d thought, to ride with a stranger all the way to Nevada, but he seemed nice on the phone and lived in one of the better grad housing buildings so he couldn’t be too bad, right?
They met at his car on the top level of the parking garage, his faded blue Civic covered with a fine layer of city soot and whatever other crap fell out of the sky from all those jets flying overhead into JFK.
He threw her pink nylon bag into the trunk and it looked out of place amongst his black suitcases and rusty jumper cables and other bits of boy things, and suddenly it was his turn to question the idea of riding for so many days in a car with a strange girl, a soft creature so frightening to him that he thought he might be sick from her beauty.
Their uneasy smalltalk petered out by the time they reached the tunnel, and she reflexively reached for the radio buttons. He told her with a chuckle that he’d just installed a new CD player, but it had jammed with the very first disc he’d inserted so unless she was willing to be in charge of the FM tuner for the length of the drive, they’d be listening to REM’s Monster for four days straight.
By the time they reached Ohio it was clear they had little in common. Conversation was strained all the way through Illinois, and they didn’t speak for most of the next morning after they’d stayed the night in Des Moines.
They fought about something trivial all the way through Nebraska, which turned out to be an FM graveyard, so they had to listen to the REM disc for the umpteenth time just to fill the post-argument silence.
The chill in the car dissipated in Colorado, and they even managed to have some laughs together in a shitty diner outside of Denver before spending the night in a cheap motel room with two double beds, a broken TV, and a breathtaking view of the mountains.
They were hardly friends when the dirty Civic finally rolled into Las Vegas. He dropped her off outside a nondescript house on an arrow-straight lane of prefabs, and they never saw each other again; he left his car for dead in a lot in Henderson and flew back to New York, while she dropped out of school for good and started her new life.
But for the rest of their lives, every time they heard one of those songs on the radio, they would smile.
“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh