So I wrote this essay when I was like 19 (i.e.: a really long time ago), but I felt like I should post something about my home state before diving into essays about traveling elsewhere. So here’s what I thought about the “elsewhere” before I had ever left the East Coast.
My ears are ringing like sirens, impossible to tune out, and I’m talking loudly, or at least louder than usual since I can’t hear much else. I’m standing on the front steps of thirty-seven Howe Street in downtown New Haven with a few of my friends, a concert having just ended inside. The unlived-in house blends in with all the rest on the street: old, tall, and narrow. It doesn’t look peculiar at all until night falls on the city and loud noise starts blasting from its walls, ringing out into the streets. Afterwards a bunch of kids are standing outside, all with a somewhat similar appearance: tight pants, zip-up hoodies, black rimmed glasses, piercings, tattoos, the usual physical characteristics one would expect seeing at a show. Everyone is chatting the night away and helping the bands carry cabs and cases and drums down the steps and into vans parked on the side of the road. This is what my friends and I do for a social life. We go to concerts as often as possible, but mainly smaller shows with local or relatively obscure bands playing, because they’re more fun, more intimate. We know everyone there, which usually includes the people in the bands, and this is where we all hang out. I feel important going to these shows; my friends who are performing always thank me for coming out to see them and give me high fives or hugs and I am generally one of only a handful or two of people to witness a great show in an unsuspecting location.
My friend Holly and I wait on the steps for Mike to come outside before we head back to the car. We’re parked a few blocks over on Broadway, it’s late, and we figure it’s safer if we wait for our guy friend to walk back with us. I begin to skip as we start off down the street, the taste of the Thai food we had for dinner still lingering on my tongue, my sweatshirt unzipped as the March air blows against my face. The air feels both warm and cold at the same time as it brushes my skin, the kind of air that flirts with spring but is undoubtedly still winter. This is my favorite time of the year.
We reach the parking lot, wander over to the old green Jetta, and climb inside. Everyone else is out of cash so I have to pay for parking, but I don’t mind. Holly turns onto the ramp for I-95, and we’re all silent the thirty-minute ride home, an old Death Cab for Cutie CD playing softly in the background. I lean my head against the back seat window as we cruise along the highway, watching the skyscrapers shrink into darkness and the stars come alive, forming vibrant constellations despite the bright streetlights. Although there is actual music playing into my recovering ears from the car’s speakers, I’m humming a Jawbreaker song in my head. I do it without even thinking now, every time I drive home from somewhere late at night I have to listen to that band. It’s just some weird ritual that I have. So I’m sitting in the back seat, humming “Big” by Jawbreaker, not actually hearing the words but singing them in my mind over and over while looking at all the stars. They look so small from down on this highway, but they remain stationary as the car travels farther north. They look the same wherever I go, so that when I gaze up at them, I don’t feel like I’ve gone very far at all.
And then I realize how lucky I am. Lucky to live in such a small state with enough big cities within driving distance that I can visit a different one every weekend. We’re not confined to going to the same town all the time with the same bands playing the same damn songs every concert. Lucky that there are a lot of places with good music scenes that are anywhere from two minutes to two hours away from home. Where else would we be able to have this kind of life? And then I realize how immense the world really is: we drive practically everywhere to go to concerts, but “everywhere” is really just a small fragment of the world, of the country, one that doesn’t even encompass New England in its entirety. What would my life be like if I lived in some remote location, a place that I don’t even notice exists on the map half the time, like Utah, or Montana? The choices of what to do and where to go on the weekends would be nowhere near as diverse. I’m sitting in this car, traveling halfway up the state of Connecticut, and sometimes that seems like a long distance, but it’s nothing. The drive from New Haven to central Connecticut is nothing compared to the distance between cities when you’re in the middle of nowhere, or the distances to stars. We may feel important traveling all over the place, going to all these shows, supporting our friends and local bands, but when I think about it, we’re nothing. Just another star among billions in the entire galaxy.
I’m still humming the song, and this time I can clearly hear Blake Schwarzenbach’s voice echoing through my head, singing, “Don’t it make you feel small?”