Impala – Chapter One

Shimmering pools of silver float above the pavement of Richmond’s long, broad avenues on this broiling summer afternoon. The pools dissolve as I approach, and new ones form a little farther off, always ­within view but just beyond my reach.

When I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the shop windows, I see someone else going through the motions of my life. He is well liked, well mannered, and polite. He shows no outward signs of the deep downward currents of my mind. And yet he looks at me like I’m the impostor.

Jamie’s car is in the lot up ahead, the little blue Ford by the repair shop entrance. The new tires are on, and a numbered ticket hangs from the rearview mirror. I step into the subarctic cool of the waiting room, with its gray tile floor and the table strewn with magazines beneath the muted television.

The mechanic in the oil-stained jumpsuit runs his blackened ­fingers line by line down the work order. “Tires, oil, filters, flush, and coolant.”

“She’ll make it to New York?” I ask.

“Oh, you could drive that baby straight to Costa Rica.”

I stare at him for a few seconds, until he looks uncomfortable, and he says, “I say something?”

“No, it’s just, why Costa Rica?”

“I’m just saying, that car’ll go a long way before it gives you any trouble.”

“Yeah, but why Costa Rica? I mean, you could have picked any place.” I know I’m pushing it too far, but when someone hits on the exact thought that’s at the top of my mind, I want to know how they got there.

The year before we got in trouble, the year before I ran away from San Francisco, Cred kept warning me: “He’ll get you to do things you wouldn’t do on your own.”

I knew that. Hacking into the big, high-profile targets was part of the thrill. Like walking a high wire.

I tried to brush off his concerns. “That’s how you grow, right? Taking on big challenges.”

“No,” said Cred. “That’s how you end up in jail.”

We got stoned that night and went out drinking. At the end of the evening, it was just Charlie and I throwing darts in the back room of some bar I’ve never since been able to find. There was a map of the world on the wall, and Charlie handed me a dart and said, “Close your eyes and throw. We’ll go wherever the dart lands.”

I hit the coastline of northern Siberia and Charlie said, “Fuck that!”

I said, “When are we going to this place?”

And he said, “Not this year.”

He closed his eyes and tossed a dart into the middle of the Pacific. When he looked at it, he said, “Shit! We’re gonna drown.”

Then I squeezed my eyes shut and threw the last dart smack into the little coastal town of Sámara, Costa Rica. Charlie looked it up on his phone and said, “Nice work, dude. The Mar Azul has four stars and a poolside bar. If we have to run, we might as well run to the beach!”

“Wait,” I said. “Why would we have to run?”

A year later, when I finally did decide to run, I chose Richmond, ­Virginia. It’s a full continent away from San Francisco. There’s more going on here than you might think, and the pace is slow enough that you can enjoy it all.

And Charlie? I haven’t talked to him in four years.

The mechanic says, “Shit, go to LA if you want.”

“But I don’t want to go to LA,” I say. “I want to go to Costa Rica.”

“Whatever, man,” he sighs. “It’s seven hundred thirty-three and tax. The keys are in the car.”

Tomorrow, Jamie and I will leave Richmond at 5:00 a.m. and drive to Long Island, and I’ll drop her off for a four-day retreat where she’ll uncover her true self and develop the tools for a purposeful life of ­self-actualization. Or something like that. You have to read the website. It’s full of testimonials.

I told Jamie I’d spend the night with her on Long Island and drive back Thursday. And I told my boss I’d be at work Thursday morning.

I did that on purpose. Overcommitted, so I’d be sure to disappoint someone.

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