My first day commuting, it was weird being up so early, in a pack of other half-awake workers, all clutching their steering wheels and squinting up at the stoplights from under their sun visors. Now, it’s routine, but I still see things with curious clarity, hyper-aware of details in the new daylight. Primarily, these are unattractive urban details, like the many telephone wires swooping along the roads, trash scattered on the highway, rust on the train bridge over the river. Weed sprouts in the concrete median turf of cigarette-butts. Anxious hunch-shouldered office drones clutching coffee cups in one hand and shouldering laptop bags. Tar drizzles on the asphalt are an electrocardiogram from hell. A faded flag flapping on top of a fast food joint, where a line of cars curls the building, getting bagged breakfasts at the window. Retail store parking lots, cracked, dark and empty. The bass rumble in the jeep ahead that’s so loud that the rear windshield wiper vibrates. And, finally, my parking spot next to the fire escape. An overturned trashcan in the muddy alley behind the office. The slam of the metal door to the worn-carpeted back hall, then quiet. And hot tea.
There is a lot of peculiar and some outright violent vocabulary in the publishing industry, perhaps in keeping with the notion that the pen is mightier that the sword. We “kill” things regularly, slashing them through with a red marks, clicking away on our computers like so many locusts eating through piles of prose. I wear headphones to keep out extra noise. The headband on them is disintegrating, peppering my hair and shoulders with black plastic specks.
In the evening, I gather my coat and purse and pull back into rush hour traffic. I’m weirdly sad, driving past a boarded-up restaurant where 20 years ago, I had one of my final dates with my one and only boyfriend. The wind is kicking. Brown-tinged sulfurous clouds are hanging just a hundred feet above the ground. An occasional break in the cover shows blue sky above, and off in the distance are friendlier lavender clouds, like big rolls of purple wool. Even at 70 miles an hour you can see the trees vigorously tossing—the wind is truly ferocious. The clouds boil overhead, rolling swiftly. It’s kind of ideal tornado weather, a fluffy soup of blue and gold and white. It's weird to see the clouds moving so fast as you are moving so fast--it's as if everything is turning and nothing is stable. The clouds rise steadily, now perhaps a thousand feet up, lifting, thinning and more golden, with bright fiery bursts of white sunlight and blue sky like a Baroque painting of heaven. Missing are garlands of flowers, fat cherubs, and a lovely gaggle of Muses playing instruments and smiling down benignly. And suddenly, the clouds are lower again and dark and close and the trees are bare and the wind is high, and the scene shifts from summery pastoral to the stark, wintry background of a Helga painting by Andrew Wyeth.
A gust of wind almost tears the steering wheel out of my hand and I refocus on the road. I see the wet black trunks of the pine trees on either side and hear the muffled shriek of a cargo truck pulsing past me in the left lane. My own tires churn towards the promised light, where the clouds disappear into a bright horizon. As the sun is sinking lower, it turns the underbelly of the remaining clouds white gold. Across the Savannah River. And home.