Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My First Road Trip: Racing The Sun

I inched the accelerator closer to the floor, torn between getting a speeding ticket and winning this race. My opponent was bigger, faster, brighter and didn’t actually know that we were competing. In fact, it was content to consume hydrogen while I cursed at both it and my patched-together Mustang, the three of us racing towards the horizon.

I was eighteen years-old and had been sitting bored at home, trying to think of something to do.  Then it occurred: Why didn't I watch the sun set over one ocean and rise over another? It was possible in Florida, as we had the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast and the Atlantic on the east. We even had I-4, an interstate that runs from Tampa to Daytona. Great idea, except that by the time I had thought of it, the sun was starting its decent.

Tampa was only an hour's drive from my house, but the sun was already touching the horizon when I exited the interstate, desperately looking for a way to get to a beach.  I could see a beach, see it was right there, but I didn’t know how to get my car to it. Fifteen minutes later, my car was parked and I was running across the sand and onto a pier that jutted out in the water.  I pulled my camera out just in time to photograph the sun's rays dipping below the water.  I watched as the pinks and yellows faded to blue to violet to black.

Relief exhaled. Phase One accomplished.

I had ten hours until the sun rose again and it only took an hour and a half to get to Daytona. What to do until then?

Click "Read More" for the rest of the story


Four AM found me hurtling down I-4, headed east. Construction barricades had me in a one-lane roofless tunnel, and I was sliding through this concrete slalom chute at 90 mph.  I had found a rave in Tampa, and had gotten so lost in the music and the dance that I again left too late.  It was stupid driving that fast in the dark, barely able to see the turns as they shot towards me into the glow of my headlights, driving that fast simply to see a sun that would come up again and again and again.  Stupid, but also damn exhilarating.

Odd to need to be near death to feel that.

The earth raced along with me, spinning at over a thousand miles an hour as it moved the continents, the oceans and me, so fast that if it stopped my car would be catapulted forward, tires leaving the pavement before nose-diving into the asphalt. But the earth didn’t stop and neither did I, and we both raced as fast as we could towards the sun.

Five-thirty AM found me in Daytona Beach, illegally parked at some hotel, the sky just beginning to lighten. I ran to the beach. The sun was not yet up, but it was coming quickly. The sky had already lightened to blue; pinks and yellows were peaking up over the ocean. The sand was deserted. I saw some birds flying over the waves and, as I pressed the button to take a picture, I realized I was out of film.


I turned and ran for my car, hopping in and pulling out, racing down an empty street, trying to find a convenience store. Lights flashed behind me, and I looked into the rear view.


I spotted a 7-11 and parked, looking at a store that I knew had film, looking at the sky growing lighter and lighter as the cop came to take my license and proof of insurance, as he took his sweet time writing the ticket.

I had raced breakneck down the interstate without incident and now, going 40 in a 30, I was getting pulled over.

Ticket in hand, I ran into the 7-11, bought the film, raced back to my car and snail-paced myself to the hotel parking lot, making sure I didn't catch the cop's attention again.

I had raced the sun to the west coast and watched it set over the Gulf of Mexico. While in Tampa,I had played  beach volleyball, rollerbladed, danced and driven through the night, all while on a planet rotating to bring me to see it again.

Breathless, I sat on the beach and waited. Soon the sun rose in a wash of orange and pink, its edges wavering as it cleared the water. It lifted up into some low-lying clouds, its light refracting into hundreds of rays that spread through the cottony ether. It was just me, the beach and the sun.


After the shimmering disk had come fully over the horizon, I lay back, exhausted, concentrating on its warmth on my face.

I awoke about an hour later. I had been dreaming. There was girl in the dream, walking along the beach. She was young and blonde and pretty and had said "hi" to me. And when I opened my eyes, no lie, she was there. It wasn’t the same girl and she wasn’t standing over me as expected, but she was young and blonde and pretty and walking barefoot in the sand nearer to the hotel, giving me a wide berth. I sat up and watched at her, looked at her lit by the rising sun. I was surprised a film crew wasn't recording it.

Everything else had been perfect, so why not this? I suppose in a novel she would had seen me and I her and we would had felt some deep connection and made love right there on the sand while the water lapped up at our legs. Instead, she walked by, barely acknowledging me. Just as she was passing, though, I said: “I had a dream about you.”

It caught her attention.

She came over. I introduced myself, and she sat by me on the sand. Her name was Jaime, she was sixteen, and she was on vacation with her still-sleeping parents. Our conversation was the basics: where from, why here. I spent a lot of it lying on the sand with my eyes closed against the light, the sun still showing red through my eyelids, white spots dancing as I listened to her. Like the rave, it, too, felt right: me lying there, her sitting beside me, the salty breeze blowing off the water, the sun dissipating the morning chill. There actually was a connection between us, a moment, one of those moments where fate and life converge and you’re left with a simple second of synergy, beautiful for its own sake. There wasn't more, no future where we told our kids how we met, simply a boy falling asleep on the beach after racing to see the sunrise and waking up to share it with a pretty girl.

She gave me her email, and then I stood up, brushed the sand of my jeans and bid her goodbye. And as her hand gently brushed her windblown hair out of her eyes, the sunlight glinting off the near-white strands, she said goodbye to me, too.

I still remember that second.

I never wrote her.

Fantasy aside, life demanded that I get back into my car, and drive home. I had been to my first rave, met an angel, seen the sun rise and set over two oceans and, as it turns out, got back to the interstate just in time to hit the morning traffic.

Welcome back, life.

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