A drive through the desert on a starlit night.
Ever have one of those moments you wish you could remember for the rest of your life? I’m not talking about simple recall here. I’m talking about remembering with the detail you need to relive the experience in your mind.
I had one of those moments [again] on my way home from Phoenix last night. I’d driven down in the afternoon to pick up my husband, Mike, who had driven his Honda down that morning to pass it on it its new owners. I took my Honda S2000, which is a convertible, and because the weather was so perfect yesterday, I had the top down. After dealing with traffic on the afternoon drive through Phoenix, I finally connected with Mike on Chandler Avenue (or it is Boulevard?) in Ahwatukee. From there, we headed back into Phoenix, to one of our favorite restaurants: Tarbell’s on 32nd Street (I think) and Camelback. After a wonderful meal full of interesting flavors and textures, presented with perfect service, we climbed back into the Honda and headed northwest for home.
Tarbell’s is probably about 60 miles from Wickenburg. We took Camelback west to the 51, followed that north to the 101, and took that west to the 17. Then north to Carefree Highway and west to Grand Avenue and northwest to Wickenburg. I had my iPod plugged in, playing just below distortion volume on my Honda’s very disappointing stereo system. (The 2003 model year did not include speakers behind the headrests; what were they thinking?) I’m used to the less than satisfactory sound quality competing with road and wind noise, so I enjoyed the classic rock — mostly 70s and 80s — that I made Mike listen to. (The rule is, the driver chooses the music.)
The drive north on the 51 at night is always interesting. On most nights, you can see the landing lights of the jets on their way in from the north to Sky Harbor Airport just southeast of Phoenix’s downtown area. Last time I took this route home, I’d spotted at least eight aircraft, lined up into the distance. But last night, there were never more than four.
We stopped for gas at Carefree Highway — last gas for about 30 miles. My Honda gets between 25 and 30 miles per gallon, depending on how I drive. Because I don’t drive it very often, I tend to drive in a way that gets me lower mileage. (Hey, girls just wanna have fun, right?) But on a long highway drive, if I keep my speed down near the speed limit, I can go far more than 300 miles on a 13-gallon tank of gas.
Then came the part of the trip I’d like to store in my brain for periodic detailed recall: the drive west on Carefree Highway. It was about 7:30 PM, and even though it was a Friday night and Carefree Highway is a favored route for the Phoenix to Las Vegas crowd, there weren’t many people on the road. Once I passed the new Game and Fish Building (with its deplorable new traffic light) and rounded the bend at Lake Pleasant Road, I brought the car up to speed, set the cruise control, and drove while classic rock blared out into the night.
It was dark out there — it usually is at night — and a slim crescent moon hung in the sky, bright side down. I say “bright side” because the sky was so dark, you could clearly see the entire moon, even though most of it wasn’t illuminated. The crescent hung there in front of us, surrounded by stars, sinking ever lower into the sky. Above us, the sky was black as — well, black as night, to use an appropriate cliche. There were more stars than a city dweller could imagine; so many, in fact, that it was difficult to pick out the standard patterns of the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and the Pleiades among them. And being that the sky was perfectly cloudless, those stars stretched in every direction.
What I should have done was pull over to a safe spot off the road, killed the headlights, and spent some time just looking up. Because frankly, when you’re driving 65+ miles per hour on a two-lane road in the middle of the desert at night, you really can’t steal too many glances at what’s directly above you. What’s in front of you is far more important to monitor.
Yes, it was cold — probably in the low 50s. Although the top was down, Mike had his window up and the heat was on. And yes, I hate the cold. But the cold was part of the entire experience: dark night, fun car, open roof, loud music, crescent moon, countless stars, cold wind.
The moon dipped behind a hill as we got onto Grand Avenue and drove the last ten miles to Wickenburg. In town, the carnival at the Community Center offered a bright contrast to the otherwise dark night. Town was surprisingly empty at 8 PM on Wickenburg’s big Friday night of the year.
I drove home, coming down from the kind of high you can only get from having real fun.