I flip the turn signal and make the next left. The beams of the headlights of my Ford Taurus slice through the jet black darkness as the road bends and curves under a canopy of trees.
After we pass a half dozen intersections, Steve jumps in with a "right."
I flip on the turn signal again and we wind deeper into the unknown, my friends alternating in giving instructions.
We didn't do it that often and the three of us didn't spend a lot of time together. I was the shared friend between the two of them - Jason, with whom I went to the same high school and Steve with whom I had grown up. I seem to recall that the three of us had just finished a new issue of Dharmacation, which was the successor to Driftwood, the magazine that Steve and Geoff and I had had started together - a local zine/literary magazine (possibly one of the very first to include online submissions). Geoff had moved on to other projects and Steve and I had continued our endeavors under a new name, and brought Jason in. It didn't have the same dynamic, but it worked well enough, for a while.
Our goal that particular evening was just to get as far from what we knew as we could, while still being "responsible" enough to get back home at a reasonable time. I was living with my dad at that point and he may or may not have been traveling in some other state or country, so "a reasonable time" was pretty loosely defined. Generally I interpreted it to mean at least a couple hours before sunrise.
The few times we tried this activity/experiment or whatever you want to call it, we seemed to always end up in Morrisville out around New Hope and the New Jersey border. The challenge was to get to some place we had never been before, and then see if we could retrace our route back to those roads and streets that we knew like the back of our hands.
It was a weird bonding activity, but hey, we were weird kids. While some kids drank or smoked or played with drugs, our form of rebellion manifested itself in trying to get lost - something that each of us had been advised to do on a fairly frequent basis. And as we attempted to get lost and then unlost, we listened to punk rock and alternative music, or we just turned the radio on and listed to the Princeton college radio station. I think REM's album, Automatic for the People came out around that time - maybe that's what we were listening to.
There was a sense of satisfaction when we finally realized that we had achieved our goal and nothing looked familiar anymore. And there was an equal sense of accomplishment in getting back to our small known world. Manufactured stress and artificial relief - but to us it was real enough.
And now, nearly 30 years later, Steve is gone, Jason is somewhere, and I find that I'm doing something similar to what the three of us did together as teenagers. I go for long drives, hours some times, looking for something I haven't seen before. It's different now in that I always know where I'm going - I have a specific destination in mind. And you can't really get lost anymore - not with seemingly every point on earth now mapped out in a smartphone application. I don't have to stop and ask for directions, unless what I'm looking for is really hard to find - a miniature roadside monument, an abandoned cabin deep in a swamp, an enigmatic gravestone or something to that effect. It's never because I don't know where I am.
Having to pull into a gas station and have someone behind the counter pull out a map and puzzle over how the hell we ended up wherever the hell we did - that's probably not an experience that teenagers today or at any time in the future will be able to relate to. We've lost our ability to be lost, and with it, I think, something important, a kind of wonder. Or rather, the potential for wonder. We don't puzzle over what's around the next bend in the street - we can see it all on google maps. Where to stop for a snack, where to fill up with gas, where to take the best picture - it's all right there at our fingertips. But once known, once the route is planned and plotted and mapped, it cannot ever again be unknown. There are some things that can only be found when you're not looking for anything. And for all the big, ten dollar words I've so carefully accumulated and collected over the years, I have trouble articulating quite how that makes me feel - trying to hold onto a shared memory when those you shared it with and when even the very world in which you shared it have all vanished. Wonderloss, I guess; a very specific type of nostalgia heartache, and it's heavy on me tonight as I write this.
I feel rather than hear that familiar, silent voice whispering, "go on, get out of here. Get lost...
...if you remember how."