I was probably about four or five years old, riding in the back seat of a station wagon on a long trip. It was late in the afternoon in the middle of summer and we were headed north across three contiguous states out west somewhere. We were caught in holiday traffic, cars bumper to bumper, blaring their horns on all sides. I had cousins next to me on the seat and more cousins in the back, all of them yelling and grabbing and fighting and bouncing around on the upholstery. I was keeping to myself, scribbling in a coloring book in the middle of all this heat and noise under the glaring sun.
As we inched along, I could see that the highway passed under a bridge up ahead, and there was an exit ramp there to get off the freeway. No one seemed to be getting off at this ramp, but I had an urge to see what was off the exit. As though prompted by my curiosity, I found myself propelled forward, flying free at the speed of sight. Off the ramp there was just a little local gas station there with the old ticking numbers on the pumps and an attendant that stared out from a dirty window as the traffic passed on the highway all day. I slipped along the vacant roads of the little town. It was sad and quiet so late in the day. I came to crossroads after crossroads with nothing but posts and tufts of grass. A few pickup trucks rattled by. People lived around here and they were headed home and the world was so unbearably big and lonely.
I got turned around in a gravel lot somewhere that was decorated with strands of colored flags fluttering in the breeze like they were having a sale, but the lot was empty and the building there was boarded up and there was no one around selling anything. I felt lost to myself, disembodied and haunting my way along these back roads. I wanted to cry. I wanted my coloring book. I wanted my place in the seat in the middle of all the jumping cousins. And then I came to another crossroads, and I took another turn, and I found myself back on the bridge that passed over the highway, and I could see all the gridlocked cars stretching out of sight in either direction.