Sung to the tune of “Visiting Friends” by Animal Collective

The LCD displays 05:32 as I turn the key, remove it from its rightful place in the ignition, and open the driver’s side door. My hands grip the sides of the open door frame and, with a grunt, I propel myself outward. My floppy brown boots hit the ground, a light click as my untied shoelaces bounce off the asphalt. Hands reach skyward, lower back arches, blood rushes past the ears as I pull together the putty-self that formerly inhabited the driver’s seat. A yawn, I shake my head, I nudge the door closed. Not too many cars on I-81 yet. This time seems to belong to the tractor trailers. With a deep breath I invite the early morning in, glad to flush the stagnant car-air from my lungs. Two clicks of the “lock” button as I walk towards the beige-grey concrete shack, a dull contrast from the pink-blues of the new sky above it.

Rest stops in the early morning are a pretty special place. Everybody agrees that it would be best to avoid everyone else, to avert eye contact. But it’s not a cold isolation. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment, a show of respect for the privacy, the solitude of the road. The beige-grey building is closer now. The man to the right stares at the ground, waiting for his dog to decide to urinate. Beyond him, a handful of grey-haired folks set up tables under a tent, placing upon them large coolers. “Free donuts and coffee” reads the sign on the tent-post, “Courtesy of the local Rotary.” I enter the building, wrinkling my face at the mildewy damp scent, cut with the lemony assault of cleaning supplies.

I won’t bore you with the details. 

I leave the restroom, inhale, flush the air. Amble towards the tent, the shuffle of my boots on grass, the shuffle of paper cups and plates being arranged on a plastic table, the shuffle of birds launching from their perches in the trees, shuffling their wings as they glide over the highway. The top of the tent blocks the sky, now more blue than pink. Cup in hand, I open the valve, wait, close the valve. Coffee. I thank the man behind the fold-out table. He nods, understanding our silent agreement, waving the encounter aside so I could continue the drive. That damn dog still hasn’t peed, but the man seems not to notice, studying the letters on his hoodie. Amble towards the car, the dull thud of boots on ground, the imperceptible click of shoelace bouncing on asphalt, the groan of eighteen-wheelers barreling down the road by pure inertia, the two beeps letting me know my car is unlocked. Another half-hearted stretch by the driver’s side window, now made more awkward by the coffee in hand.

Door opens, old-man grunt narrates the transition from out to in, door closes. The car shudders as the key brings her back to life. We merge back onto the highway, while Ira Glass mutters something about public schools through the speakers.