“Care for an adventure?” I get the text at 3 PM while walking out of Starbucks with my second latte of the day in hand, green straw in my mouth. Opportunity does not knock so much these days as much as it dings and buzzes obnoxiously in my pant pocket. The “adventure” in question is the tail end of the ATP festival, New York’s answer to Coachella. The arbiter of fun is my friend Danny and some Brooklyn cohorts. The Flaming Lips are closing the show. My interest is piqued, and like the start of all good stories, my response is, “Why not?”
I take the subway to Prince Street and walk toward the agreed upon meeting place. Danny is wearing a cream fedora and shorts, which he claims are the first he’s purchased in years and I believe him until I remember a picture I have of him from Coachella two years ago wearing a pair in red. He argues that those were swimming trunks, a weak but valid point. We move on in the conversation, turning our attention to snacks for the road instead. We both get Cliff Bars: Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie for him, Peanut Butter Crunch for myself. I get a giant bottle of water, which I lose before we even get out of the city.
Our gang of four is in a holding pattern, waiting to confirm which additional adventurers will be making the trek out to the Catskills with us. Thus far we have Danny, myself, Mike, and an Estonian. Danny’s twin sister is en route to our meeting place. A girl named Sarah might be in the cards, as is a fellow by the name of Matt with his girlfriend in tow. At this point our numbers are sloppy and we only realize that we have too many people for the 7 seater SUV after we’ve rented it.
Danny’s sister arrives, Mike and the Estonian pack some booze, we get outside and try to hail a cab for five. The first thing that pulls up is a minivan. Eureka, serendipity! A few blocks later and we’re at Avis, located on a street I used to have to avoid when I was at NYU because of the copious amounts of dog shit that always seemed litter its sidewalks. We walk past a car with a window sticker for “Catskills Elementary.” Wah, serendipity?! If I were stoned this would really be blowing my mind, but I’ve been designated the designated driver so that’s out of the question for this three hour tour.
The boys have been drinking since brunch, something that wasn’t necessarily intentional but appears to be an oh happy accident. I am told this Sunday was supposed to be booze free, followed by yoga and some other nancy pants activity like bike riding. But the best intentions sometimes only turn out to be just that. How this day turned into a drink-out-of-a-flask-drive-to-upstate-New-York type of day beats the hell out of me.
The woman at Avis is about as patient as a person could be. She is hefty and fills out ever inch of her burgundy coat and white collared button up shirt. Danny and I prattle on loudly about something I can’t remember. We all laugh at a decibel that seems to me pretty loud for the lobby’s small space. Mike hands over his credit card and driver’s license. I hand over my own. For an extra $3 I am added as an additional registered driver. What a bargain.
The car is already out front. It is a white Envoy with gray leather interior. We are instructed to inspect the outside for any signs of damage so that we will not be held responsible. Danny’s sister is a lawyer and she is meticulous and judicious when pointing out our findings, most of which the short Avis man laughs at and says, “Oh, no no das nutheeng.” Still, I take pictures. Mike has decided that he will drive us out of the city and then I can take the wheel after that. He puts the car in reverse and bumps into the car behind us. Whoops.
The final number when we hit the road is seven; Matt’s girlfriend either backed out or was never coming to begin with. I missed the conversation when I was out buying another bottle of water and a dinner roll. I sit up front, watching barges and clouds pass by as we drive down the FDR. Danny is in the middle row and says, “This is the point where we’re actually doing this.”
It’s 5 PM and traffic is stuck. Everyone’s iphone has a different opinion and apparently our first directions are incorrect. We drive through a bit of New Jersey, a place I’ve always thought was actually quite luscious and appealing. But I rarely tell anyone that…ever. We pull off the side of the road at a gas station next to something that looks like a river but is probably just an average wash; the difference being that I am used to the Los Angeles River which looks less like a wash and more like a barren concrete tunnel that each Fast and the Furious sequel shoots in, Paul Walker screeching past empty shopping carts and homeless people in a black rice rocket.
Everyone pees that needs to pee. I take the keys and hop in the driver’s side, Danny now taking shotgun and the DJ duty that accompanies the position. Three trouble makers smoke pot and laugh in the back. I can’t hear a thing which is great because otherwise I would have the anxiety that usually accompanies me knowing I have the life of six other people in my hands. This is something that kicks in a few hours later, driving down the same road in pitch black darkness, yellow signs announcing “Deer Xing Next 25 Miles.”
We fly past trees and cars and the sun sets over the hills. Danny plays 80s New Wave. We all sing. I think to myself that out of all of the drives I will make in my life, this will be one of my top ten. These are the moments that I will long for when I die, the songs that will play in my head when that time comes, the things that gave everything else meaning. And at that moment I am both sad and terribly alive, because I realize what I have and I realize that eventually it will all be taken away and I am helpless to stop it. What a gift, I think, to just be here, on my way to the Catskills with one friend and five strangers becoming less strange and more intoxicated with every mile.
To be continued…