I usually pull off onto State St. from my house on Catherine, drive south through campus, past Briarwood Mall and the Ann Arbor Airport, and keep driving till I hit downtown Milan. From there, I’ll loop around on Saline-Milan Rd., take Whittaker back north until it turns into Washtenaw, Arborland, and campus all over again. It’s the perfect route because it’s essentially a gigantic square, and for the most part, it’s wide-laned, grassy country roads, the kind where the sunset bleeds crimson through the trees no matter the season. The square manages to encapsulate the majority of my life within its limits– I grew up in a rural area between Ypsilanti and Milan, technically Ypsilanti Township. It’s right around the Washtenaw/Augusta county lines. There’s not a lot to do around here; my high school years were spent frequenting the Tim Horton’s and the Aubree’s Pizzeria. Late at night, after extracurriculars ended for the day, the only thing to do to avoid going home was to drive around and park in driveways and lay on the roofs of our cars and look up at the night sky. The stars are a lot brighter out there than they are here on campus.
I take this drive probably once a week. It takes around an hour and a half to make the round trip; conveniently the approximate amount of time it takes to listen to two complete albums. The driving is just enough for my brain to focus on, but not enough to fill it up– driving frees up space in there, I think. That wasn’t why I started though. Considering present circumstances, I, for one, just wanted to get out of the house. But aimless driving isn’t really aimless, for the most part. This route, besides being easy to drive, passes by my parents’ house, my old elementary, middle, and high school, my ex-girlfriend’s house, and my old favorite coffee shop. The square, in its entirety, is a topographical etching of any significance I’ve found in my life so far. So every week, for the past few months, I’ve traced it, around and around and around.
There’s nothing I love more than an album– a playlist is great, sure. But one complete story, a series of motifs and callbacks looping through the tracklist, one person’s experience– somehow, by being more singular, it feels more universal. Over the next few months, I’ll be writing about the albums I’m listening to on my weekly drives– the memories it reminds me of, and the stories behind the albums themselves. And maybe, if I’m lucky, someone reading this will feel a little closer to me and the universal human experience.