Backseat Driver

My chauffeur has trouble concentrating on the road ahead. He checks the gas gauge more than anything beyond the hood. He’s more concerned with keeping his vehicle in working order than getting anywhere. He drives down an empty highway well below the speed limit.

His eyes wonder to the mirror, not to check for cars, but to examine his irises. They’re swimming in so much red they look like they’re glowing blue. He’s so entranced by the effect he doesn’t notice me, guzzling motor oil from a paper bag, in the back seat.

We’ve logged so many miles together he’s forgotten that I’m even here. He flicks the high beams on, thinking it’s fog he’s seeing, and not the secondhand puffs from a smoker who refuses to crack a window open. He adjusts his seat, blaming the sharp stabbing pain on his posture, and not the boot heel I’m pushing into his rear.

I slip a plug into the cigarette lighter and rest an exposed wire on my tongue. My saliva sizzles. Each static jolt is sugary sweet. I want to see how much energy I can syphon before he turns around. When my chauffeur notices the dimming of the headlights, he pulls over certain that it’s a problem with his eyesight.

He reaches for the glove compartment accidentally severing my connection. He takes a moment to map out his principles, convinces himself he knows the route, heads back out on the highway, and turns the cruise control on. When he hits rough terrain his beliefs do nothing to keep him from swerving.

In a moment of weakness he mistakes my voice for the GPS.

“Turn left at those storm clouds?”

He looks to the shadows rolling down the mountainside. “That cyclone tearing through the cactuses?”

I nod. “That’s exactly where it is.”

My chauffeur turns toward the tornado for no other reason than for a change of scenery.

The breeze kicks gravel up, pelts the windshield with little brown bullets. Spider web cracks spread across the glass. My chauffeur winces as his bumper crunches beneath his tires. He leans inward as the driver side door flies off its hinge. I look out the rear window in time to see the muffler draw a line across the desert. When the license plate snaps off I make a wish.

Still the old rust bucket finds the road again.

My chauffeur gets himself to a service station. He does an inventory of what he needs to work on. He takes a sobering look at the miles he’s put on. He almost spots the aftermarket modifications I’ve made beneath his hood, but he picks a fight with the mechanic and we’re back on the road again.

My chauffeur growls, strangles the wheel, and pounds it with his forehead. When he glances at the rearview mirror his tantrum winds down as fast as it came on. He sucks his snot in, attempts to wipe the look off his face, and glances back. “Where to, mister?”

I’m taken aback. It’s been a while since he’s noticed me. He must think I just came on board.

I raise my chin. “Take me wherever you’re heading and I promise you a five-star rating.”

He nods. “Sure thing, chief.”

I’ve been riding with him for so long he’s forgotten where he picked me up. Was it a middle school bus stop where he chipped his teeth on the pavement, a college dorm where he waited in the rain for someone who never came, or the parking lot of an office complex where he screamed into his horn until his throat went horse? The answer is: all three, of course.

My chauffeur drives to the height of his ambition, eases off the gas, and stares at the sun. He’s spent most of his life racing toward mirages: shortcuts that got him lost, oases that have left him parched, and places that looked like home but turned out to be ghost towns. Now he’s imagining what’s just over the horizon.

When he’s over the hill he lets the engine go as idle as his hands.

I reach past the parking brake and turn the dial. The radio is teeming with voices to get my chauffeur to question the route he’s on.

“Traffic on Easy Street is backed up for miles. Chopper one says it’s filled with happy couples that put their cars in park just to make-out and cuddle. No use going that way unless you’re carpooling. Lone drivers will have to take the back roads. Just look out for sinkholes in your ego.”

I switch to another station with contradictory information. I crank up the cognitive dissonance. I want to convince my chauffeur he’s driving the wrong way, on the wrong side of the road, in a must merge lane. I want to give him whiplash at the interchange, get him dizzy at the roundabouts, and drunk on a dozen U-turns. I want to put on a show, give the other motorists something to rubberneck, get my chauffeur’s name into the paper.

I stretch my arms around the front seat, run my claws along the upholstery, and slide my fingers beneath his armpits. I take the wheel at 8 and 4, hand under hand, and give it a little nudge in the wrong direction.

The road I set my chauffeur on is a helix ramp, looping round and round. It’s littered with New Years Resolutions, wish boards, and job applications. He tries to navigate around them, but he just can’t react in time. He loses control, lets gravity do the driving, and skids through a shoulder full of soiled mattresses, used condoms, and bottles. These speed bumps do nothing to slow his momentum. He takes his hands off the wheel and it’s all downward spiral from here.

My chauffeur reaches his destination at terminal velocity. It’s not the fall that kills him. It’s the explosion.

I sit there in the back seat, savoring the fumes, soaking all the blood in, satisfied with another journey’s end. I scrape the shards off my briefcase, flick the locks open, and fish the Jaws of Life out. The hubcaps are still rolling through the flames when I walk away from the scene. I raise my thumb to the nearing sirens. I’m just a rider eager to get back on the road again.

Maybe we can ride it together.

If you coast through life, waiting for meaning to come, I’ll be the one that flags you down. If you spend too much time trying to find the source of that sound in your engine, you won’t even hear me pull the back door open. If you lose your way, trying to find satisfaction, I’ll be the one back seat driving.

That’s how I roll. I wear idle hands like gloves. I drive people crazy, send them through the looking glass, and wrap their minds around trees.

Check your blind spot. Look over your shoulder. You might just have yourself a passenger. Now drive.

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