It’s amazing how quickly a person can get used to things. I haven’t been driving this route very long, but it’s already becoming automatic. My mind wanders, and the scenery just passes by like a rerun I’ve seen too many times playing in the other room. I know all the lines and which moments are particularly funny or poignant, but I’m only half paying attention. Most of it, I just have to get through. It’s just a road.
Of course, most of this experience had become familiar a long time ago. I’ve lived in this area most of my life and had driven on this road plenty of times before it became the road I take to work. Very little has changed in that time, not anything substantial anyway, just little things. The hobby store became an insurance firm. The hot dog stand became an ice cream stand and then went back to being a hot dog stand. A couple of houses got new paint jobs. But occasionally, something momentous would happen. A new store or restaurant would go up and become a point of wonder. First it’s the heavy machinery and the mounds of dirt which obliterate years of scenery only ever half committed to memory. Next is the gradual assembly of something new as a skeletal frame rises up and is covered with a skin of brick or stone or linoleum. And like a miracle, something new exists. The smooth dark black of new asphalt contrasts with the brilliant yellow of parking lines. Tiny, perfectly manicured trees all stand the exact same height. The glass is so clean it’s like it isn’t even there. The whole building looks almost exactly like the little computer rendered mock ups that stood outside the construction site for months. The spot that had gone unobserved for so long is completely transformed, and for a while it seems as though the entire street is transformed as a result.
Then it rains. Leaves fall. It snows. The sun returns. Asphalt cracks. Trees grow. Dirt gathers in the corners and crevices. Sooner or later the new business fades into the surrounding. It becomes just another piece of scenery. The sense of wonder which had transformed the entire area is reduced to a memory, just like the liquor store that burned down or the laundromat that was bulldozed to make room for a row of townhouses. Sooner or later it’s all memory.
This memory is still fresh. It wasn’t so long ago that this route, familiar as most of it already was, still felt like a revelation. Everything I saw was transformed just by the fact of my destination. I wasn’t just driving; I was on a quest, and each bend and turn unveiled some new discovery. There were wildflowers blooming beside the cemetery. How poignant! Someone had drawn a smiley face in the O on that stop sign. How ironic! McDonald’s had a sale on McMuffins! 2 for $2!! How marvelous!!! But such rhapsody quickly started to feel foolish. The little details blurred and blended together and then were ignored like that strange grating noise in my engine. I have become an agnostic, looking back on my past fervor with a mix of nostalgia and embarrassment. I know better now. But I still miss the excitement I had felt. I miss seeing the road the way it had looked not so long ago. Of course, the road hasn’t changed, no more than its usual slow, steady pace, but I have different eyes.
Now I have to work to notice things. Was my neighbor out in his garden? Had they fixed the pothole by the bank? Was the sky cloudy or clear? I can’t remember the last time I looked up at the sky. It’s hard to go back. I’ve heard of people’s muscles joints freezing up if they are not used. The muscles don’t simply atrophy; it’s like they get locked into one position and can’t expand or contract the way they used to. It’s possible, if I wait too long, I may never be able to lift my head to look at the sky again.