The light turned yellow. I pressed lightly on the break and then all at once, causing the extra life I keep in the passenger seat to shift slightly forward and then jolt back again. I scanned my surroundings. I’d like to think this habit came from driving a 13 passenger van around all summer, and therefore scanning to ensure the safety of others, but this scanning was selfish. It was fueled by curiosity. A store for baja deep fishing, a fish taco place, a dive bar that is already filling at 6:00. A tattoo place with examples of tacky or trendy tattoos, depending on your opinion, spray painted on the windows and a Tae Kwon Do studio. This is where my eyes stuck. They were glued to the five men I could see behind the tinted windows.
The radio was playing Come With Me Now by the Congos. It was head banging music. I perfected the head bang in Thailand. There was a club down the street from my apartment. It was the first week. We went. The power lines were low and dense. The smells penetrated my nose, almost taking my breath away with their pungent humidity. The music was live and Thai. There was little movement amongst the locals who frequented the place. We shoved our way to the stage, tired of being still, being offered sips of whiskey on our way up. Our skin glowed in the dark of the club. When we finally made it to the front we started slowly rocking our heads to the music. The lyrics and the melody completely distant but our necks began carrying our heads back and forth. It’s easy to allow yourself freedom in a place with no connections to the past. It was how my body decided to relate to the music and I allowed it, complaining of a sore neck on our way home. We were tipsy and imagining the streaks of light our illuminant bodies created as we danced.
My eyes were still glued to the five men in the Martial Arts studio. The radio still playing head banging music. Their movements were slow, graceful. They were completely engrossed on what every part of their body was doing. They were willing their heart rate down, their breaths slower, their distractions away. Their motions were fluid, making this art of self-defense elegant.
The light turned green and I forced my right foot to the gas, ripping my eyes away from the 5 men who knew how to kill elegantly.
“How was your holiday?”
The man was talking to whoever would respond. I was waiting for an oil-change with my nose in my new book. I looked up and caught his eye. He smiled. I responded.
“It was really good. How about yours?”
“Yeah it was good, I got to spend it with my mom for the first time in a quite a few years. She’s retired now.”
He was small boned. He had too much product in his hair and was too conscious of what his body was doing at every moment. He tried hard to look relaxed, intelligent and interesting in the way that he sat, with his arms crossed and slightly leaning back, trying to look comfortable. His core was getting a workout. He tried to ignore his aching ab muscles.
“So did you go to her, or did she come to you?”
“No, she’s retired in Arizona,” He reminded me. “We filled up the tank and drove to her.”
“Nice. I have grandparents in Arizona.”
“Are they in Sun City? Everybody who’s retired lives in Sun City.”
“No. They’re in Phoenix.”
“Oh. Well Arizona is beautiful at this time of year. The perfect temperature.”
“Yeah.” I agree.
“I generally don’t like leaving in the middle of the day, then you have the sun right in your eyes. I don’t have contacts or sun glasses.”
He points at his glasses.
“I’m so glad we did. At sun set the mountains were surrounding us and the sun hit them in the most…magical way.”
He searched for the perfect word. Because that time of day may be indescribable. I began to like him, despite his insecurities.
“Yeah I know what you mean.”
“Really our country is beautiful. I went on a road trip for seven months. I’m an executive chef, so I know hospitality people all over the country. I would go make them a big meal for a dinner party in South Carolina and then get 2,000 bucks. My only rule was to have $600 in my pocket at all times. That’s plenty for anything I needed. Nothing in the bank. Heck, I only just now set up a retirement fund. It was more of a soul searching trip I guess. But the US is a pretty magnificent place.”
I wondered what kind of soul he found. It wasn’t as graceful as those five men behind the tinted window. I wondered if he was happy with it, or if we would go on another meander, searching for a new one.
“Yes! I just realized this over the summer when I had a tour guide job, taking people all over the country. I was shocked at the beauty. I’ve been leaving the country to find it, but it’s been here the entire time! I would really like to do some kind of solo cross-country adventure. That sounds fantastic!”
I spoke fast, as I do when I talk with enthusiasm. He seemed to not mind my over excitement. In fact, it seemed to be contagious. We continued talking, while my old white car got her filter replaced, and new oil taking place of the used substance within her. At one point he apologized for talking so much.
While he distracted me from my essays about cartography and wax museums, he gained an ally. I smiled as I walked out the car room, a glass case of model, miniature cars covering one wall.
“Nice to meet you.” He said.
“Yeah, have a good one.” I told him, referring to his life, rather than his day.