I carpooled down from Orlando, and upon arriving in Jupiter I climbed out of my friend’s car, bid him fond farewell, and entered my own. An hour or so left till I would reach Miami, and the sky was already darkening, the sun conflagrating the West. Snarls and tendrils of fire licked up across the underbellies of the clouds, but I knew I would be arriving home in darkness. Exhausted, already weary from sitting in a car for two hours, I pulled back out into traffic, and began the long ride home.
Traffic was thick but with occasional stretches of empty lane down which I could cruise at 80mph. I made good time. Eventually I ended up in the far left lane, holding a steady speed, a pickup truck before me, a white Jetta pulling in behind. For five minutes we three formed a team and burned down the road, but then the pickup truck began to slow, a spot opened to my right, and I darted away.
Bad move. The opening proved illusionary, and in an attempt to maintain my speed I changed over once more. Noticing that the pickup truck and Jetta had already pulled ahead, I put down the gas pedal. I surged up to 80mph, but then disaster struck. An oil truck merged into my lane ahead of me, forcing me into the far right just as we reached an on ramp, exactly where dozens of cars were spilling slowly onto the highway. Cursing, I was forced to pull back to almost 50mph, duck back behind the truck, and by then my previous friends were gone.
Ten minutes passed as I sought to recoup my losses. Gamely I headed down the HOV lane on the far left, ducking out to loop around slower cars and tangled knots till finally I slid up next to the white Jetta. The pickup truck had been left behind, but the Jetta had continued to drive aggressively, holding to just above 80mph. I glanced across the size up my rival, and then did a double take. She was a beautiful girl, with straight black haired and a pale face. I managed just a glimpse before she accelerated and began to pull away. Gamely I fell in behind her, and so it began.
For the next hour we chased each other through traffic, sticking to about 80 but constantly leaving the other behind as one of us slipped through a gap to find freedom while the other would be held back, trapped. Three times I thought I had lost her, only to have her pull back in behind me or creep up alongside some five minutes later. Once I made another poor decision to swing back out to the far right, only to be forced to fade back. She slid out of view, and it took me ten minutes to catch back up.
The sun set. We drew ever closer to Miami. I began to wonder if I was imagining this connection, this rivalry. Perhaps I was alarming her with my constant presence? But no–why would she catch back up, only to slot into the space behind my car, seeking me out, her face inscrutable behind the glare of her headlights? Each time I pulled away I would glance up into my rearview mirror to see how she handled the same challenge, if she’d manage to follow or pick a route of her own. If she’d be trapped or escape through to keep up the chase.
The flare of headlights through the darkness made it harder to keep track of her. She fell behind, got stuck behind a permanent jam that I knifed out of just before it truly coagulated. Ten minutes passed and I thought I had lost her, won our competition; my frequent checks in the rear view mirror showed an ocean of headlights but little more. But then she pulled in behind me, materializing out of the traffic to my right. It was the last time I was to see her.
Smashing Pumpkins came on, Tonight, Tonight, and I took the HOV lane up onto the overpass that cut across a spaghetti squiggle of highway loaded with exits. She’d fallen behind again, and I couldn’t tell if she’d take the overpass too. Upon descending back onto the highway there was no sight of her. I was but ten minutes from downtown, and a slew of important exists were beginning to flash by: South Beach, the Design District, Calle Ocho. I kept waiting for her to appear again, checked the mirrors. Nothing. A white car up ahead–no, it was a Lexus. The Smashing Pumpkins song ended, and a big jeep cut me off, then accelerated away. For a moment I was tempted to give chase, to find a way to pull ahead of it, but then slumped back. There didn’t seem to be any point. I drove the final stretch at less than 70, and right up until I took my exit I kept expecting her white car to slip into view. But it never did.