Cruising Beyond Chaos

Zoom by Zoe Oppenheimer for Cruising Beyond Chaos by Annie Bernstein

That night, we talked about the past and the future as the famous In-N-Out “secret sauce” dripped all over our chins and hands. Just an hour earlier, I had been laying in my dark room, staring up at the ceiling. With a knock on my door, my dad popped his head in and asked, “Want to go for a drive?” Ever perceptive with his chin tilted down and understanding eyes, he smiled at me as I metaphorically climbed the walls of my room. It must have taken 10 seconds to scramble into the passenger’s seat of his Subaru, taking the dog along for extra companionship. On what became our routine during those difficult nights, we cruised through the streets of Los Angeles, making our way to freeways only known to me by numbers: 101, 405, 110, 10, 134. My mind would settle into a rhythmic lull that calmed my lingering worries. After all, I was next to my dad.

I realized that our drives were the best way of coping with the long stretches of uncertainty and loneliness during the first year of the pandemic. On those drives, we could disconnect from the scary world around us. We were together, free to feel the road, wind blowing in our faces through the wide-open windows of the car, free to stop at In-N-Out to eat our feelings. Of course, dad had a protein-style burger wrapped in lettuce, and I had a meatless, grilled cheese smothered in oodles of sauce. Our meal was absolutely delicious, but at that moment, it wasn’t the food that mattered, it was the realization of how much my dad loved and supported me. And that he was willing to drive a hundred miles to make me feel better.

For a couple fleeting moments, we were removed from the world enjoying each other’s company. As we drove back home, I felt lighter, happier than I had in months. I could see that my dad was relaxed, his own stress during this period of time having melted away. He was ready to subject me to his infamous Dad Jokes. We listened to music from the ’70s and made bets as to who could hold their bladder the longest. I can’t remember who won, but I am certain our dog lost.

“Want to go for a drive?” I ask my dad with a tiny smirk on my face. I notice he’s had a hard day at work. A few moments later we are in his Subaru, but I am driving, and he is in the passenger’s seat, our dog panting in the back. I proudly start the car and back out of our driveway. It’s midnight. A weight is lifted from our shoulders as I ease into cruise control on the Golden State Freeway. Most people know it as the 5 freeway, but I had some time to learn the name. I know just the spot where we can grab a bite to eat.

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Annie Bernstein is a member of the class of 2023 at Valley International Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, California. She is a member of her school’s speech and debate and slam poetry teams, and kickboxes at a local gym. Annie is passionate about writing and history, and in her spare time she likes to read and cuddle with her cat.
Accompanying photo: “Zoom” by Zoe Oppenheimer