There are a few reasons why I like driving at night. It’s not something I do as often as I’d like to, but I spent this evening driving from one side of the country to the other. In my little metal lunchbox with wheels there are no distractions. I’m alone. I have in my hands all the controls to keep this thing between the white lines. I can choose to go as fast or as slow as I like. I can be safe, and I can be deadly. This great instrument will do exactly what I tell it to do.
At night, I feel as though my journey has more purpose. Usually, I’m the only person on the road. Tonight I passed nothing more than a few scattered and rumbling trucks hauling goods between sterile greasy warehouses. In the movies, when two characters are in a car talking about the plot or moving from one scene to another, all the other users around them blur into the background. When I’m on my own on a road, my journey becomes singular. I’m just aiming for the horizon. I have full ownership of the highways, to do what I need to do, go where I need to be.
At night, everything that is reflective lights up. Cats eyes wink at you in white, red and green. Signs, traffic cones, barriers once dull and flat are all neon in your headlights. The road becomes the stargate in Kubrick’s 2001. As they pass you by, and you are cocooned in warm darkness save for the soft glow of the dials, you get a sense that you are being transported somewhere otherworldly, as though you are driving above the usual road surface suspended in mid-air.
I have certain artists that are suited to soundtrack a night drive. Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, the piano instrumentals from Amelie, pretty much the entire Moon OST. Sometimes though, I’ll just turn everything off and wind all the windows down to smell the air. At night, when the only car on the road is yours, all the pollutants are lifted and Nature is allowed to weave her vines across the road and into your car. You can smell wet grass, the sap of pine trees and the dusty aroma of a disappearing dry dusk. All you hear is the rhythmic tyre roar.
When I change lanes, I try to avoid hitting any of the Cats eyes as I pass over them. I stole this from Iain Banks, along with much of my attempt at a literary career. Speaking of which, I still haven’t read Stonemouth. I keep picking it up at my local bookshop and then immediately I put it down again. It’s intimidating to read something that…. final.
I weaved between the huge shoulders of hills today, the road carved into the deep valleys that suck the clouds down to the ground. Nothing would stop me, but I respected them from a distance. Other times I just looked out of my window, awestruck. I would go to bed with those landscapes. And me, not exactly submissive, would do anything they asked me to.
At night the hills are a darker black against the night sky. The clouds hover fluffy white just above, close enough to touch, like so many ghosts crawling across the ceiling.
My little warrior, inside whom I have driven tens of thousands of miles over the years, buzzes and crackles now with age. The engine is thirteen years old and was never exactly a power puncher. But I can feel everything through my fingertips. In torrential rain I’m seeing nothing but simply following the spray of the person in front of me. I feel the car go light like a hovercraft as we hit huge puddles of water. With a twitch of the hips we find the grip again. We carry on. I squeeze the wheel a bit tighter and chuckle for us both.
Towards the end of the journey, as we hit the familiar moors road, it is no longer tranquil. I want to be home, and I know I am near. So I throw everything around, taking banks and crests as fast as I can knowing that there’s grip in the daylight and so there must be grip at night. Half the time I can’t see what corner I’m aiming for, I just know it is there. We drop down into the twinkling lights of the harbour, sinking like angels in the snow. I slow everything down but the car is still raging and fizzing. It takes a bit longer than me to calm down.
When I finally pull up at my house I’m exhausted. I’ve only been on the road seven hours but it’s been a while since I’ve done that in the space of one day. I turn everything off one by one, like an astronaut shutting down a capsule – handbrake up, wipers off, lights off, engine off. I get out and I have to learn how to walk again. Before I stagger away, I brush my fingers over the warm bonnet and say thank you, thank you for getting me home.