The commute was always the best part of my day, and then later on, the best part of my night: ripping on a deserted western Massachusetts road, cow pastures on both sides, that rich stink of manure coming in through the vents on my helmet. I would leave around four in the afternoon. That used to be my morning: wake up after 12, drink coffee on the sun-soaked porch, smack away the encroaching morning glories that were swallowing my house whole, then slowly, resentfully, get it together. Black, always black. Black pants, black shirt, black eyeliner. Black helmet. I rode into town like a carefree mutt with its head out the window, momentarily forgetting that I was chained to the night of service ahead. To the customers’ demands, the chef’s wandering hands, the burning-hot plates stacked on my forearms, the wineglasses threaded through my fingers, and the dishwasher’s petulant rage. Arriving always hurt a little—the leash yanked taut. How many mournful cigarettes can one woman smoke before dinner service begins? How many longing glances can she cast at her chrome chariot, wedged between the dumpster and the folding chairs? Finally, the show. No time for wistful gazes in the alley. Would you like to start with drinks? Fresh ground pepper on that? The chef recommends medium rare.
But the middle-of-the-night ride home—that was true freedom. Empty roads, pavement still warm, moon-soaked sky, the adrenaline of a hundred or more covers fizzing through my veins, and the lump of a few hundred dollars cash against my thigh. The speedometer on that old Honda never did work right, the corn stalks shivering in my wake as I blew past. Sometimes I’d hit a bump and the headlight would blink off for a few seconds. I’d laugh when it did, maniacal, hopped up on the relief of being done, of being set loose, no leash until tomorrow, no cops for miles, no reason not to push that engine a little harder, to embrace that clean night air a little tighter.
These are the nights you take the long way. The nights when you ride past your own house and loop back around for a few more miles of flying by pastures with the grass nibbled down low, nocturnal eyes peering down from the tree branches, and the fireflies—so many of them blinking on and off, just like me and my goddamn headlight, all of us saying luminescent hellos to each other, saying thank God I made it to this moment. Saying glad you made it too.