The Ride

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September 15, 2002 4:35 P.M.“Star 94 FM Real-time Traffic…those heading northwest on Peachtree Industrial should expect major delays due to a gas leak….”I abruptly change the radio station. What luck! I have moved exactly one mile in ten minutes. My first car, the epitome of self-liberation, has confined me in a ten-by-five-foot box. The heat is unbearable; the air outside is stagnant; the air conditioning offers little relief. I roll up my pant legs, take off my socks, secure my hair in a ponytail, and sink into my sweat-drenched seat. Today’s ordeal is pure frustration. My obligations begin to float and jumble in my mind: trigonometric problems, an English paper on The Crucible, an outline about China’s WTO accession. I have to get home. If I do not complete these assignments I will face dire consequences…zeros, failing classes, expulsion from school, rejection from colleges…The clock reads 5:16. Any other mode of transportation would have gotten me home by now. My thoughts begin to wander, and I recall the vehicles that carried me here from my hometown, Yuci, years ago: a bus to Taiyuan, a train to Beijing, an airplane to Memphis, a family sedan to Atlanta. Sitting miserably in my car, awash in these memories, I realize I never enjoyed any of these journeys.March 4, 1993 1:30 P.M. The blue paint of the metal skeleton had begun to peel off. The seat was not cushioned. The handlebars did not even have a bell that, with a flick of the finger, would ring out with a clean and crisp tone. But it was a bicycle, and it was mine. Not being able to afford a new one, my grandfather had purchased it from a friend. Though it was dirty and old, I could not wait for my first ride.I climbed on, pulled my feet off the ground, and pedaled to nowhere, without a thought on my mind. I turned round and round in the tiny courtyard, a brick wall blockading the dirt road on one side and towering apartment buildings enclosing another. The courtyard was an apartment in itself: a group of elementary school kids engaged in a game of “rubber band jumping,” two old ladies sitting on stools eating noodles with the aged vinegar aroma engulfing them, aproned figures hanging up lines of fresh wash in the sun, a mother from the second floor calling for her child to return for lunch. From the outlook of the concrete porch of our first-story apartment, my grandparents and great-grandmother watched me maneuver around this Chinese tableau. September 15, 2002 5:31 P.M.A honk from behind jolts me back, and the sound of a little girl’s laughter during that bicycle ride fades away in my mind. I look at the car two inches in front of me, the one two inches behind me. Why am I in such a hurry to go home? Must I keep dreading the ride simply because it is a means to another destination, another goal? I suddenly realize that my anxiousness and preoccupation with completing a task do not help me get anywhere any faster. I let down my hair, turn up the music, wave to my neighbor, and enjoy the day for what it is.

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