In 1990, when we were both 22 years old, my friend Clark and I drove from New Jersey to the Canadian border, bought a box of donuts, turned the car around, and drove the entire length of the southbound Interstate 95 non-stop, as quickly as possible. It was what we called a “high-velocity vacation."
For reasons unclear we decided to only listen to one song the entire way: Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” We had the cassingle.
We drove in shifts, pulling into service plazas every two hours to switch drivers, fill up, hit the bathroom, and stock up on Pringles, Gatorade, and coffee.
Maine was a big state, nothing but highway and fields and clouds of snow swirling in our wake. After that was the sprawl: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland.
In the middle of the night we had a long conversation about how 95 was the modern-day Mississippi River, and how this drive was about as Huck Finn as our lives were ever going to get.
The landscape opened up in Virginia. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia passed quickly. "Life is a mystery," Madonna told us every six minutes. "Everyone must stand alone."
Then there was Florida. Florida would--not--end.
It stretched out before us like four lanes of taffy lined with palm trees and cows and a surprising number of dead armadillos on the side of the road.
And then it did end. I’m not sure what we were expecting in Miami – Crockett and Tubbs to greet us with a baby alligator and a key to the city? Children walking their pet flamingos? But the highway just unceremoniously dumped us out into the slow traffic of U.S. 1.
The trip took just under 24 hours. We felt this big sense of accomplishment, though what we’d accomplished was also a mystery.
I moved to Key West a few years later, and since then I’ve probably driven up and down 95 about 30 times. I did it again last summer, headed north to go see family.
It went well until North Carolina, where suddenly the road was covered with foam stuffing. A futon had fallen off the back of a truck and someone had hit it. The car in front of me locked its brakes. I locked mine -- came to a full stop. And then was hit from behind at around 60 mph.
Glass shattered, air bags went off, doors popped open. My seatback was knocked flat and I found myself staring at the ceiling light. I climbed out and sat on the cement barrier in the middle of the highway. Traffic kept flowing by.
I thought, "95, it’s over. We are done."
My hands shook for hours from the adrenaline. Two weeks later, I still felt angry and betrayed. But I had a plan: A series of blue highways would get me home without getting on I-95.
It took two days to get from New Jersey to South Carolina – almost three times longer than normal – but I was committed. And then Georgia betrayed me. My safe little road merged with I-95. There was no choice but to get back on that highway.
"95," I thought, "I can’t quit you."
I pulled onto the onramp and pressed down on the accelerator.
Life is a mystery.
Everyone must stand alone.
I hear you call my name, and it feels like home.
Hear Mark's adventure below:
This story originally ran on February 24, 2014.