Inhaling the Distractions on the Yellow Interstate

by

07/15/2005

East Lansing, MI

Neighborhood: Uncategorized

Cops. The left lane is for passing only, did you know that? I must have forgotten since driver’s ed class, like I’ve forgotten to take speed limits seriously. Even when you literally can’t afford not to, even in daylight. Which I can’t and which it is. But I’m going ninety in the left lane and ten minutes into my morning trip to Lansing it’s: “License and registration please.” Five minutes later it’s me holding a “Civil Infraction Copy” of a “State of Michigan Uniform Law Citation” from the “Farmington Hills Police.” Who sleeps with cops? Because I don’t think I could – no, couldn’t – a career in people hunting is a turnoff. Sticking the ticket in my bag and merging back into my left lane with no intention of passing only, I remember a talk show.

Caught it channel surfing years ago; they had on this “rebellious teen.” We’re talking twelve or thirteen, young. And she’d say over and over: “I hate cops, man. Cops are PIGS.” Then the host asked her where her anti-cop attitude came from – had she been mistreated by them maybe, or seen them mistreat someone else? And the girl stared thoughtlessly and thoughtlessly admitted: “I don’t know. I just hate ‘em… Everybody hates ‘em.” Never wanted to be that girl, and hate ‘em because I think everybody’s supposed to. Nor would I want to be a cop, and stalk people who are trying to get where they’re supposed to.

For me that’s web-authoring class, in which we’re getting chastised today: “You guys need to get away from using all these pastel colors in your designs. The web is a very visual space, it likes bright colors.” Which ones are the primary colors – they’re bright – yellow is bright, is it one of them? The family of grazing deer I see on a sunshined way back towards Detroit are yellow, they blend into fields that are yellow. Yellow is the grass’s albino uncolor color. The aforementioned sunshine is a glossier yellow, less brown, more amber than the deer and grass. The borderline between the road and the ditch that my wheels cross when I’m too tired to steady them is yellow, and gives the illusion of a paper cartoon, slides changing fast enough to trick eyes into seeing a continuous image. The “Bridge May be Icy” sign is yellow, and hilarious in warm weather, bless their hearts for never taking it down. Four out of five junk food signs are crayon yellow, which isn’t hilarious but funny, to choose a warning color for marketing the food that people ought to be warned against.

Yellow: the happy color, the cowardly color, color of jaundice and urine and dandelions and yolk. But it can be drenched in yellow or polka-dot indigo for all the difference it makes to me. This drive doesn’t please my eyes, just wrinkles their surrounding skin, for all its shades of the same pretty color and its families of deer.

To be fair, it’s not just the drive:

NOTICE TO THE DEFENDANT: In the name of the people of the State of Michigan you are notified: 1. The plaintiff has filed a complaint and wants · to recover possession of the land contract forfeiture; · a money judgment; · to evict you from;

Address or description of premises 905 Coolidge, #5, Lansing, Mi 48912

… TRUE COPY 55TH DISRTICT COURT

Oh Lordy/ trouble so hard/ Oh Lordy trouble so hard/ Don’t nobody know my troubles but God/Don’t nobody know my troubles but God

Sometimes I’m lucky, when I find one of my old burnt CDs with something good, no, perfect, like this. Only God and I aren’t friends, I don’t know him-her-it, so she-he-it doesn’t know my troubles.

Maybe if there weren’t just cornfields-and-cows-cornfields-and-cows on either side of I-96, my mind wouldn’t regurgitate its trouble, spit it back up and chew on it some more. When I drive to get Melanie in the heart of Detroit, I inhale the distractions greedily. Abandoned people: strutting hookers, power-walking welfare mothers with barely-keeping-up children, pacing dealers, dragging junkies. Abandoned buildings: boarded up windows, caged up storefronts, rotting brick. My distracted head becomes an angry head, then a self-righteous head, as it chews on thoughts of all the suburban whites who’d never venture here even under the cover of their car frames. I’d be one too, maybe, if the cows and cornfields didn’t drive me towards tall buildings at odd hours, with no one in my passenger seat.

On one of these late night visits with the city’s skyline I ran out of gas, had to pull over at a gas station between 6 and 7 Mile. Men came out of nowhere, to see what this dumb white girl thought she was doing on their corner. Each one would come on to me: “Hey baby, where you goin’? – can I come?” “What’s a nice-lookin’ white girl like you doin’ ‘round here?” “Hey sweetie, hey you got a name, hey!?” And then each one would defend me from the one before him: “Ay, man, leave her alone.” “You alright honey?” “Don’t worry ‘bout him, damn junkie.” And each one who defended me became the next one to try picking me up: “He’s gone now, you wanna come somewhere with me tonight?” “He ain’t comin’ back, don’t worry, I’ll take care of you, I’ll protect you.” “I would’ve messed that guy up for you, hey, I’m talking to you, where you goin, hey!” One of the scariest nights of my life, but the one on which I earned my self-righteousness in Detroit. And sing-along rights to Eminem: “Claimin’ Detroit, when y’all live twenty miles away/… Look at y’all runnin’ your mouth again/When you ain’t seen a fuckin Mile Road, South of 10.”

I get out on 11, coming home from Lansing yet again, and I’ve got three more minutes in this car, but the first light I hit makes it longer. And I’d be annoyed sitting at that red, if not for this distraction: Look at her dancing. Is it a cheerleading routine she’s practicing, this girl with beaded braids and fluid fingers? Could be these aren’t steps she’s memorized; the longer she stomps her feet and hula-hoops her waist the more she gives me the impression that she’s improvising, and the more I like her. From the freeway exit ramp from inside the car, from behind the salt stained window where I’m sitting, she looks like there’s not a thing else she could need. But to dance. In front of a cell phone storefront, while her family makes their way out of their car on slow feet that carry mouths in discussion. On the drive there today, a hawk or some such was circling above. I envy this girl like I envied that bird, like I envy anything or one that’s not locked in, by burdensome thoughts or steel doors.

Almost done driving, well, for today, done with tail-chasing thoughts of costs and benefits; almost. The cost of having stayed in Lansing minus a roommate for this last semester: $635 dollars a month, plus utilities, food and etc. Benefits of moving to Oak Park eighty-three miles away: Free rent, utilities, food and etc. What if I’d stayed, gotten a new roommate, gotten a second job… but beggars can’t be choosers… What if I didn’t leave my windows open to air the place out over winter break, what if the pipes hadn’t burst, what if I wasn’t getting sued… but when life gives you lemons… Driving. Myself crazy.

Until I get home. I get out. And I get it: distractions can’t save me. Neither can proverbs. Neither can skylines or colors or songs.

It’s knowing where you’re going, regardless of where it is you’re driving, that promises sanity. And, knowing? That happens in your head when it’s not getting a lot of distractions. Maybe tomorrow, I won’t waste this Lansing drive on thoughts that are already brewing. Maybe, if I turn the music down and give it over an hour, my teapot head just might come to a whistle, when it’s ready to tell me where to turn my life next.

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