Tip #109: Acquire your license.
When you’re sixteen and fresh out of driving school, you think you can do anything. You have ultimate freedom. Mom and Dad can’t weigh you down. You might even have your own car, and you can go anywhere in it. You could drive from Ohio to Wisconsin if you really wanted to, as long as your blubbering death trap kept itself together. It was self-discovery and freedom and fast food at any time of night.
I had had my license for two months, and driving was my jam. I blasted the crackling rock station from the speakers and was careful not to burn out the clutch as I pulled off of Columbia Parkway and onto Beechmont. I was on my way home, coming from who-knows-where. As I drove, I remembered a small road up ahead, a dirt path I’d always wondered about whenever my parents would drive by it. I used to watch for it from the backseat, trying to get a glimpse at where it might go. Who sees that kind of street off of a four-lane state route? It had to go somewhere cool.
Tip #25: Embrace your inner Magellan.
And I was the driver today, which meant I could go anywhere I liked. I pulled into the slow lane, heart-racing, waiting to see it. I knew it was before the bridge that crossed over the Little Miami River, so I slowed down as it came into sight, searching.
There it was: my wardrobe to Narnia, my Diagon Alley, my rabbit hole. A drum beat in my chest, and I couldn’t tell if it was my heart or the music.
Surely, I was about to embark on an exciting adventure, the kind written about in Young Adult novels where I’d stumble across something philosophical, meaningful, and it would change my life forever. I’d call my ex-girlfriend and we’d end up getting married, going abroad to find ourselves, and then coming back to have two point four children. I might even find inspiration for a novel down this road, leading me to get the Nobel Prize in literature.
Tip #3: Always remember to be safe.
I slowed down and turned onto the road. As I passed between the open metal gates, the tires crunched the dirt and gravel beneath them, and I was careful with the gearshift to make sure I didn’t stall. Suddenly, I was surrounded by woods. I idled down the road. The path was only large enough for one car, so I would need to find a safe place to turn around. To my left was the river. Remnants of old fishing gear and beer cans speckled the green earth. Coming up was a house, decrepit and spooky in a perfect way, ready to fall down at any moment. It made me shiver despite the hot, so I kept going. People must drive down here to go fish or camp, I thought, eyes searching for somewhere along the way to turn around. I saw a decent spot to the left where I might be able to turn around, but there was no guard rail to stop my tiny Saab from rolling down the hill and into the river. I figured I might as well keep going forward. Better to be safe than sorry.
Tip #37: Stay vigilant!
Less than a minute later, there was another metal gate and a patch of concrete leading up onto a road. It stretched before and to the right of me, no longer surrounded by trees, but by fresh turf. There were no signs or markings to tell me where to go. I had to decide my destiny.
I chose to go forward, because turning while going up a hill from a full stop meant I would definitely stall. My car heaved itself up onto the flat track and I continued onwards. In the distance, I saw something – someone. There were people, walking along the road. Hitchhikers? I wasn’t sure what area I was in or what kind of people lurked about, so I locked my door. Better to be safe than sorry.
I crawled forward, unsure of where to go and looking for any street sign that might orient me. Something else was coming up on the side of the road, something strange. Was… Was that…
Tip #98: If you start to cry, be sure that you can still see before continuing driving.
Terror seized me. After several seconds of hesitation, I slammed on the brakes and stopped. Oh god. Oh god. This was a goddamn park.
The people who’d been walking alongside the road – no, it was not a road, it had never been a road – started to pass my car. They were an older couple, giving me strange looks as I reached over to roll down my window.
“Excuse me,” I said. My voice cracked and suddenly tears were blurring my vision. “I’m sorry. I made a – a wrong turn, and now I’m lost. How do I get out of here?”
The husband and wife looked at each other. I could feel them judging me, but I didn’t care. This was a portal to Hell, not Middle-Earth.
“If you just follow the path, it should take you right to the parking lot,” said the old man, pointing along the walking path I was following, which would soon curve ninety degrees to the north. I could see the parking lot in question.
Tip #109: Be prepared for disillusionment, but don’t take it too hard.
I rolled all my windows up, and then I blasted the air-conditioning and made sure the music was loud enough that I could barely hear my own choked sobs. Oh god. What if there were kids here? What if I ran into a kid? Why did I turn down a road that I knew nothing about? What if the cops showed up? What if I went to jail?
I was dead. I was going to die. My car was going to explode in the middle of Lunken Playfields and I’d be on the news and my mom would cry but she’d also be shaking her head because how did she raise a daughter who would drive her car through a park?
I didn’t go over five miles per hour the entire time, not until I got to the end of the path where, thankfully, there were no metal rods to stop cars from passing through. When my tires hit pavement – real pavement, road pavement – I sighed and slowly made my way down towards the road.
I wasn’t dead. I hadn’t found Narnia. I hadn’t found myself. I’m such a moron, I thought. But, hey, I guess I could say that at least I found adventure.