Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - First Hour





It takes a little while for everyone to explain to their parents that 1. We’re all going to miss graduation,
and 2. We’re driving to New York, to 3. See a town that may or may not technically exist, and hopefully
4. Intercept the Omnictionary poster, who according to the Randomly capitalized Evidence is 5. Margo
Roth Spiegelman.
Radar is the last to get off the phone, and when he finally does, he says, “I’d like to make an announcement.
My parents are very annoyed that I’m missing graduation. My girlfriend is also annoyed, because
we were scheduled to do something very special in about eight hours. I don’t want to get into details about
it, but this had better be one fun road trip.”
“Your ability to not lose your virginity is an inspiration to us all,” Ben says next to me.
I glance at Radar through the rearview mirror. “WOOHOO ROAD TRIP!” I tell him. In spite of himself,
a smile creeps across his face. The pleasure of leaving.
By now we are on I-4, and traffic is fairly light, which in and of itself is borderline miraculous. I’m in
the far left lane driving eight miles an hour over the fifty-five-miles-per-hour speed limit, because I heard
once that you don’t get pulled over until you’re going nine miles an hour over the speed limit.
Very quickly, we all settle into our roles.
In the wayback, Lacey is the provisioner. She lists aloud everything we currently have for the trip: the
half of a Snickers that Ben was eating when I called about Margo; the 212 beers in the back; the directions
I printed out; and the following items from her purse: eight sticks of wintergreen gum, a pencil, some tissue,
three tampons, one pair of sunglasses, some ChapStick, her house keys, a YMCA membership card,
a library card, some receipts, thirty-five dollars, and a BP card.
From the back, Lacey says, “This is exciting! We’re like under-provisioned pioneers! I wish we had
more money, though.”
“At least we have the BP card,” I say. “We can get gas and food.”
I look up into the rearview mirror and see Radar, wearing his graduation gown, looking over into
Lacey’s purse. The graduation gown has a bit of a low-cut neck, so I can see some curled chest hairs.
“You got any boxers in there?” he asks.
“Seriously, we better be stopping at the Gap,” Ben adds.
Radar’s job, which he begins with the calculator on his handheld, is Research and Calculations. He’s
alone in the row of seats behind me, with the directions and the minivan’s owner’s manual spread out next
to him. He’s figuring out how fast we need to travel in order to make it by noon tomorrow, how many
times we’ll need to stop in order to keep the car from running out of gas, the locations of BP stations on
our route and how long each stop will be, and how much time we’ll lose in the process of slowing down
to exit.
“We gotta stop four times for gas. The stops will have to be very very short. Six minutes at the most
off-highway. We’re looking at three long areas of construction, plus traffic in Jacksonville, Washington,
D.C., and Philadelphia, although it will help that we’re driving through D.C. around three in the morning.
According to my calculations, our average cruising speed should be around seventy-two. How fast
are you going?”
“Sixty-three,” I say. “The speed limit is fifty-five.”
“Go seventy-two,” he says.
“I can’t; it’s dangerous, and I’ll get a ticket.”
“Go seventy-two,” he says again. I press my foot down hard on the gas. The difficulty is partly that
I am hesitant to go seventy-two and partly that the minivan itself is hesitant to go seventy-two. It begins
to shake in a way that implies it might fall apart. I stay in the far left lane, even though I’m still not the
fastest car on the road, and I feel bad that people are passing me on the right, but I need clear road ahead,
because unlike everyone else on this road, I can’t slow down. And this is my role: my role is to drive,
and to be nervous. It occurs to me that I have played this role before.
And Ben? Ben’s role is to need to pee. At first it seems like his main role is going to be complaining
about how we don’t have any CDs and that all the radio stations in Orlando suck except for the college
radio station, which is already out of range. But soon enough, he abandons that role for his true and
faithful calling: needing to pee.
“I need to pee,” he says at 3:06. We’ve been on the road for forty-three minutes. We have approximately
a day left in our drive.
“Well,” says Radar, “the good news is that we will be stopping. The bad news is that it won’t be for
another four hours and thirty minutes.”
“I think I can hold it,” Ben says. At 3:10, he announces, “Actually, I really need to pee. Really.”
The chorus responds, “Hold it.” He says, “But I—” And the chorus responds again, “Hold it!” It is
fun, for now, Ben needing to pee and us needing him to hold it. He is laughing, and complaining that
laughing makes him need to pee more. Lacey jumps forward and leans in behind him and starts tickling
at his sides. He laughs and whines and I laugh, too, keeping the speedometer on seventy-two. I wonder
if she created this journey for us on purpose or by accident—regardless, it’s the most fun I’ve had since
the last time I spent hours behind the wheel of a minivan.

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