Frank Morelli plucked his roots from the cozy, northern soil and buried them in the sun-baked clays of the Carolinas. His work has appeared in Cobalt, Rind, Philadelphia Stories, Jersey Devil Press, Change Seven Magazine, and the East Coast Literary Review.
An Open Letter To People Rocking Out in Cars
Dear Fellow Motorists,
We waste too much time our cars.
We sit patiently at intersections, run errands to local markets, take unreliable scenic routes, ooze through traffic jams, and slither undetected past detours—all while killing ourselves with five dollar coffees and witnessing life, actual life, taking place on the other side of a few sheets of steel and a fancy window.
And still, like a legion of ants marching toward a summer melon, we’re lured to our cars each day, every day, for reasons we can’t explain. The more we try to avoid it, the more we find ourselves strangled to death by our seatbelts; the more we watch our lives slip past as yellow hash marks on the highway.
After all of that endurance, shouldn’t we be able to just sit there on our sweaty, vinyl seats and enjoy our debilitating depression? Shouldn’t everything around us match our hellish perspectives as we inch ever so slightly toward a brand new workday? At the very least, we shouldn’t be trailed at every mile by the fucking cheerful police—those people who find a way to transform their cars into mobile dance clubs each time they tap the presets. We shouldn’t have to watch other people be happy, should we? Not while we’re driving.
I mean, who knows, you might be one of these happy fucking idiots. You might sit there and pretend you’re not, but it’s no secret. We definitely see you—because nobody has ever successfully hidden behind a pane of clear glass. Not one, single person.
I’m talking to you, driver of the “High School Musical minivan,” led around by a bunch of squealing middle school girls. They’re all piled in your mommy mobile on the way to some nameless soccer tournament in East Rutherfordton Heights Manor Township or another little burg where people buy peaches from ramshackle stands and lay out on plaid blankets with picnic baskets. You own a car that fits thirty-seven clowns inside, but another soccer mom, three bouncing pre-teens, and seventy-nine pillows make the thing look like a tick on a bloodhound.
There’s a stack of orange slices in the back window, bobbing and bouncing to the music as the girls sing into imaginary microphones. Candy bars, empty water bottles, hairbrushes, lollipops—anything within an arm’s reach. They screech out two or three notes at a time, then spend the next five miles giggling, falling on each other, and hoping nobody sees them—by trying as hard as possible to be seen by every being on the road, including bicyclists, road crew workers, and wildlife.
It makes me fucking sick.
I’m also talking to you, middle-aged guy in the “Boyz II Men Bug.” I hate you, man. You’re some poor slob driving your girlfriend’s Volkswagen Beetle, which I know because no dude has a bobble-head flower dancing on his dashboard and nylon eyelashes fitted over his headlights. Maybe you’re taking the car in for service, or maybe your ’78 Bronco with thirty-eight inch tires is stuck in a ditch somewhere. Whatever the case, you can’t help but hit a few buttons on the CD player, see what you girl’s been listening to.
But then you start to dig it. Something like “Motown Philly” or maybe you slow it down with a little “End of the Road.” It doesn’t matter. All that matters is I see you sway you shoulders. I see you mouth a few words. And, yes, I see you pump the soul fist like you just squeezed juice from a fucking coconut. And I see those veins bulge in you forehead. And you look to the heavens. You’re searching. You’re looking. But what the hell are you looking for?
You don’t know.
Nobody does. Because you’re just out there on the highways and freaking byways rocking it out.
And it pisses me the hell off.
Just like you, guy in the “David Lee Roth Rambler.” You never surprise me, because I can smell you coming—like I inhaled the fumes from half an Iraqi oil field. As I marvel at the amount of black smoke pouring between rusted-out crevices in your side panel, you burst out of the blackness and into the right lane.
Your curly locks dangle past your shoulders and the acrid scent of Ogilvie home perm overtakes the burning oil. A rash of drumbeats and synthesized guitar spills through open windows—probably something obvious and overplayed like “Hot for Teacher”—and you’re rocking it, my friend. You’re rocking it really freaking hard—like the last concert you attended spilled out in the parking lot and directly into your glove box.
And nothing, not even an entire caravan of ambulances with sirens blaring, will stop you from defying the symptoms of whiplash as you head-bang and hair-whip every last speck of dust off the dashboard.
It makes me want to puke.
Oh, and don’t think I forgot about you, Mr. “Stiff Upper-Lipped Lexus.” Everybody knows you, brother. Who can miss you in your two thousand dollar suit, with your seventy-five dollar haircut, manicured nails, and a vehicle that would sink two years of my salary? You barely move a muscle when you drive. Even use mostly knee to turn the steering wheel—that’s how much antifreeze you have running through the veins.
But you rock out, too. Make no mistake, my friend. You’re a closet fucking rebel.
Behind those Louis Vuitton shades you can’t get enough of whatever you’re listening to. And it’s weird shit. Not Bach or Beethoven or any of that normal rich-guy-routine stuff. No, you’re rocking out to the Ramones, or Candlebox, or freaking John Legend. It could be anything. You never know.
And I have to be acutely observant to catch you in the act, Lexus Guy. You’ll never willingly show your true nature. You’re too coy. You fumble out a few lyrics—like the refrain in Pearl Jam’s “Alive”—and then you play it cool. Bob your head, tap the steering wheel. Stuff that normally wouldn’t piss me off. But then you belt out a few more fragments from the same refrain. It’s all you know and it makes me want to run you off the road.
Murder isn’t always on my mind when I think of you, “Dashboard Drummer.” You’re an old classic, my man. You pull up at an intersection listening to some surfer-type shit with a bunch of annoying high-hat action—which is apparently why you’re stuck driving an old station wagon with wood paneling. The only clue to you having possibly surfed before is a jagged, metallic scratch on the roof of the car that may have been etched-in by the tail of a surfboard, but could have easily been a byproduct of moving a rusty bed frame from your frat house.
You rock it pretty hard too, guy, but the drums are your game. As the beat reaches your core, you pound the dashboard, the steering wheel, the barely upholstered ceiling, your knee, your freaking two-year-old in the child seat—whatever suits your tastes at the moment with regard to drum kit assembly. And you never fret over collateral damage, even though the corner of the dash is cracked and bending (perfect snare drum) and the saddle-skin cover on the wheel is sundried. No. You rock on, literally to the beat of a different drummer—yourself. I only wish you wouldn’t do it in public.
And, finally, don’t think I haven’t changed lanes to avoid you, “Middle-Aged Matron in a Mazda.” I knew you were on your way to work again because you had that shriveled look on your face. Of despair. At the thought of eight more hours trapped in the cube. In the middle of Suburbia. In some industrial park between a junction in the railroad.
Yes, the railroad.
Your hair’s still wet from the shower and the windows are rolled to the hilt—you want to marinate in your own depression. I could almost like you for that. But then you tap the ‘play’ button and there’s something upbeat. Maybe Blondie or Joan Jett. Maybe something from the ‘70s or Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And suddenly the windows are down. The hair’s drying in the breeze, and you’re belting it out like nobody’s watching.
But I told you already: people are watching. I’m watching. And, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing, a little disheartening, and I don’t want to see it. Can’t you people take your little dose of gloom each morning like the rest of us? Can’t you keep your irritating happiness locked up somewhere so you could enjoy it on your own time?
Get a fucking room.
And what did you expect me to say? That maybe next time I’ll hop in the old chuck wagon and slip something special in the tape deck? Something beachy? Maybe something from Santo and Jonny? And that maybe I’ll crank the volume up to eleven? No, twelve? And maybe, just maybe, if I knock that cracked vinyl clean off the dash, it’ll be okay because I have plenty of duct tape in the garage?
Yeah. Well, maybe not.