That’s how many miles are on my car (at time of writing), a 2004 white Infiniti G35 named Manuel. Two months ago, the last weekend before term started and summer officially “ended” (assuming summer can end in September), he crossed the 70,000 mile threshold somewhere between my apartment and the Target down on Howard street. When I left my apartment he had 69,997 and when I pulled into the parking lot four miles away, he was, predictably, one mile over. I had missed the 70,000 mile threshold, a literal milestone I had been looking forward to for months.
I’ve got a weird fascination with numbers I’ve never fully understood, given how little I know of math. Even numbers are preferred to odd, obviously, with a special exemption for multiples of five and if a big number ends in a 0 (or a string of 0s), you’ve hit the jackpot. Aside from having aesthetically pleasing or “favorite” numbers (76, number of Philadelphia), I also count everything. Pretty much always have. Never used to think too much about it, but toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, when my dad was teaching me how to drive, I think I reasoned out why.
He was a pilot in the navy in his younger years and had it drilled into him that a few spare seconds can be the difference between life or death. If a reconnaissance mission is scheduled to begin at 8:17 p.m., the lead aircraft takes off at 8:17 p.m. on the dot. An extra thirty seconds in line in the mess hall could manifest itself as a delayed wingman flying out of formation and getting shot down over enemy territory. To the best of my knowledge, my father was never in active air combat, but it was a training mentality that manifested itself into his daily routine, and manifested itself into mine, too, learning from him by diffusion in my younger years.
There’s a modified game of chicken my friends and I used to play back home where we would form a caravan of cars and tailgate each other as closely as possible on the way to our destination, without cruise control, to see who would be the first to get scared and speed up or brake, and my friends all decided to quit playing when I was around because they were sick of always losing to me. If the car in front of me’s going 33 miles an hour, I’m going bumper-to-bumper and matching his speed and never taking my eyes off of his taillights, and I’ll just putter along there, in what my dad would call a holding pattern, flying formation, for literal minutes at a time until the lead car sped up or braked or pulled off to the side and gave up. The key to winning, for me, was to think of speed as fluid. Everybody else would get locked into their odometer displaying 33 or 34 miles per hour, bringing them too close or too far away to the car in front of them, whereas I would just sort of get into the groove and slide into 33-and-a-half, 33-and-three-quarters and just roll with it, baby, just cruise.
There was a night in the summer of 2010 where I came home for the weekend after a Friday night class, driving the 78 miles from my Johns Hopkins dorm room in Baltimore to home in 79 minutes. When I neared home, I saw Manuel was sitting around 65610 miles. I called up two friends, who had wanted to hang out but had no plans in mind, and we just drove south that night, as kids with cars in suburbia are wont to do, listening to music with no destination in mind under the pretense of “hanging out.” When Manuel reached 65,656 miles I pulled over to the side of the road (a good 35 miles from home) and took a blurry iPhone photo of the palindrome illuminated on my dashboard before throwing the car back into gear and heading back home for the night.
On the drive back, one of my friend’s favorite songs came on shuffle, “Stars” by the xx. There’s this really great moment, 2:50 into the song, where everything drops away after one bass drum beat and piano chord and there’re four beats of a stagnant, heavy silence that bounces off your chest and around the body of the car. My friend miscalled the breakdown, said “I love this part!” too soon and was confused when the song kept going.
“Too early,” I said. “8 more measures,” I told her, and there was a collective counting in the car, “1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4,” the eight measures until the drop on “8-2-3-4.”
“You were right,” she said, and I shrugged.
“What time is it?” my guy friend asked from the back seat. Manuel has a manual clock in the dashboard, and it’s often difficult to tell the time in the dark. An old high school friend often told me she felt like time didn’t even exist in Manuel, since it was always too tough to read the clock, and besides, it never really mattered how many hours we had been out that night, driving to West Virginia and back just for the goddamn hell of it. I never felt that way, never allowed myself to lose track of time that way, but it always meant a lot to me that she felt comfortable enough in Manuel to do so.
“11:38,” I told him.
“How far are we from home?” the girl asked.
“What time will we get back?” the guy asked.
“12:10. Maybe 12:12. Your birthday,” I said, throwing my head back toward the backseat.
“Tomorrow’s not my birthday,” the guy said.
“December 12,” the girl said.
“You guys are weird,” the guy said laughing, and we all started laughing before I turned the car around on the side of the road and reset the odometer and headed us back north.