In the words of Britney Spears, I was no longer a girl, but not yet a woman. Gone were the days of strict bedtimes and having to tag along with my parents on the weekends. I was, for the most part, free.
The year was 1998. At 17 years old, I thought I had it all figured out: last year of high school, a part-time job shelving books at the library, and my parents’ 1987 Chevy Cavalier. Since most of my classes were easy and my job was far from strenuous, there was plenty of time for ‘driving around’.
Annette was my best friend at the time. Even after I returned to Binghamton High School after two years at Seton Catholic, deciding that parochial school just wasn’t my thing, we remained close. Neither of us had a lot of money and gas was only .91 a gallon, so we simply drove around Binghamton in our spare time.
My fondest memory is the night I received my *NSYNC CD from the BMG Music Club. (Back in my day, we were billed a monthly fee for music to be mailed to us.) I can still remember sliding into the driver’s seat, ripping off the cardboard, tearing apart the plastic and putting it into my SONY Discman.
It was blue.
After turning on the ignition, I popped in the cassette attachment and made the trek to Annette’s house. As my old car hit every bump along the way, I had to hold the Discman to stop it from skipping. I can still remember hearing ‘I Just Wanna Be With You’ for the first time, blasting it so loud that my ears began to hurt.
I pulled into her driveway and called her on my car phone. That’s right: car phone. She got in, yelled ‘DJ!’ (my high school nickname) and gave me a hug. We then proceeded to drive everywhere in Binghamton while listening to *NSYNC, including sketchy parts that I wouldn’t be caught near today.
We even drove down the streets of our crushes, because stalking boys is what teenage girls do best. (I’ve often said that had Twitter been around back then, Justin Timberlake would have had a restraining order on me.) Looking back, I’m not sure what we would have done if any of them had seen us. Probably just hit the gas.
I used to go for drives alone, too. There’s this back road in a nearby city (Endicott) that takes you to Route 26, and if you follow it long enough you’ll see farms. It’s kind of windy, and I yelled ‘whoah’ a few times since I inherited my mom’s lead foot. I remember listening to ‘Bailamos’ a lot on those rides.
Driving around was a way for me to escape. Not that I didn’t have a good home life; it was quite the opposite. I always had a burning desire to be fiercely independent, and getting behind a wheel while blasting music gave me that freedom…if only for an hour.
My view of the world was vastly different than what it is today. There’s something about that phase between childhood and adulthood, also known as being a teenager, that’s invigorating. Perhaps it’s earning a paycheck while figuring out what you’d like to go to college for, or having crushes on boys so deep that you think nothing of just driving past their house.
When I come home from work now, the last thing I want to do is just drive around. The 1987 Cavalier has since been replaced with a 2007 Chevy Malibu with considerably less mileage, and my bank account has more money than it did almost 20 years ago. (Which doesn’t mean I enjoy paying over $3/gallon or that I’m wealthy, though.) My desire to go driving has been replaced with a desire for more sleep, more vacation time, and a faster metabolism.
That feeling of just wanting to drive around? I miss that the most.