Driving Through the Suburbs

January 18, 2022

Photo by Dylan Haefner 

With the wind on my face, a drink in my hand, and my friends singing loudly in my ear, I truly believed life couldn’t get any better. It was the most amazing, yet the most temporary feeling in the world.

Nostalgia — a feeling no one ever wants, yet one that never seems to go away.

Growing up, I hated living in the suburbs of Memphis. As much as I appreciate my hometown now, I would be lying if I claimed to appreciate it at the time. In my mind, Memphis was boring, repetitive, and unexciting; it became so familiar to me that I could no longer find any thrill in living there. But most of all, the suburbs of Memphis were suffocating and confining. What I associate most with my high school years is the never-ending feeling of being trapped — the thought of wanting to escape, but never being able to.

My desire to get out of Memphis never seemed to fade. But despite that suffocating feeling, it would be wrong to say that I didn’t enjoy any part of my hometown experience. When I think back on my time in Memphis, a few things always come to mind: going downtown to visit the Peabody, walking through Starry Nights around Christmas time, watching our homecoming football game — the list goes on and on. As much as I want to leave my past behind, a small part of me will always hang on to those experiences. And deep down, I’m grateful for that, even though I would never admit it.

But as crazy as it sounds, the memory that sticks out to me the most from my high school years is probably the simplest one I have. Like I said before, I always felt like there was nothing to do in Memphis, and my friends and I quickly wore out the list of activities I had put together in my brain. So whenever we got together, we always ended up doing the one thing we could never get tired of: driving through the suburbs. We drove anywhere and everywhere — cruising downtown, drifting down the Interstate, dodging potholes on the infamous Poplar Avenue, and sometimes ending up an hour away from home in Piperton, Tennessee. But most often, we would end up driving through the Legends. It’s hard to describe a neighborhood like the Legends to someone who’s never seen it before, but essentially, picture a long cove filled with the most expensive, gaudy, and strangely modern-styled houses you’ve ever seen. That’s the Legends. And without fail, we would end up there almost every drive.

I’ll never forget the feeling of driving through the Legends in my friend’s VW Bug convertible with the top down, music blaring, and blankets strung all over the back seat. For just one split second, while looking at all those expensive houses and joking around with my friends, it felt like I didn’t have a care in the world. Not only that, but it felt like I had finally achieved my goal of getting out of Memphis. In those moments, rather than feeling confined and trapped, I couldn't help but feel like anything was possible. With the wind on my face, a drink in my hand, and my friends singing loudly in my ear, I truly believed life couldn’t get any better. It was the most amazing, yet the most temporary feeling in the world.


They say all good things must come to an end. And they’re not lying.

Because I didn’t bring my car to UT for freshman year, I took a break from driving for a while. I guess you could say that I took a break from my friends, too. We all went to colleges in different states, and even though we weren’t exactly mad at each other, we didn’t keep in touch like we said we would. It definitely hurt, but I was so caught up with my new life at UT that I didn’t have much time to dwell on the situation.

My freshman year at UT gave me everything I had thought I wanted. All throughout high school, I had been searching for an escape — a change from the everyday routine that I had become so accustomed to in Memphis. For me, UT was that escape. I went from feeling suffocated by my surroundings to being overwhelmed by the numerous possibilities that encompassed my new environment. From living in a new city to meeting new friends to flirting with random guys at parties, everything felt so exciting to me. In my mind, I had finally made it.

But now that I’m in my sophomore year of college, things have changed. It would be pointless for me to list all the heartbreaks, disappointments, failures, and losses that I’ve gone through. After all, everyone has good times and bad times while in college, and despite all that I’ve been through, I still love UT. But lately, nothing’s come easy, and I think that’s been a harsh awakening for me.

This year, I did end up bringing my car to college. And to cope with everything I’ve been going through, I’ve started driving around much more often. As stupid as it sounds, driving is one of the only effective coping mechanisms I have. There’s something about driving around downtown Austin while blasting music from my old playlists that truly helps me clear my head. Not only that, but it also helps me reassess my options and answer any questions that I have remaining. Where does this leave me? Where do I go from here? Why am I so upset? And the list goes on and on. I’m never able to fully articulate my answers to those questions, but if anything, driving at least helps me feel less scared of answering them.

It could also be possible that I drive because it’s my only option left. Whenever something bad happens to me, the worst thing I can do is sit at my apartment and dwell on it. I have to get out. I have to escape, just like I wanted to escape from Memphis for all those years.

But more than anything else, I drive in an attempt to reach the past. In my mind, if I drive long enough, I will eventually reach a point where driving is exactly what it used to be for me — a peaceful hobby and a way to bide my time, rather than a desperate way to cope with my feelings. It’s ironic: I spent my entire time in Memphis trying to escape from how I was feeling, but now, on my nightly drives, all I want is to emulate how I felt when I was with my friends driving through the Legends. As miserable as I thought I was at the time, I look back on those drives and realize how carefree I truly was. No heartbreaks from boys that I hadn’t yet met. No worries about the unpredictability of my future career. Nothing hanging over my head from day to day. All I had was a longing to escape — a longing to escape from a time I would one day wish to return to.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever fully replicate the feeling I had on those nightly drives through the Legends. Nor do I really need to. As difficult as things are right now, I know that I’ll be able to bounce back. As rejected as I feel, I’ll eventually be fine. And once that happens, my life in Austin will return to being just as exciting as it once was, and UT will go back to being my favorite escape.

But until then, I’ll keep on driving. ■

Photo by Dylan Haefner

Model: Enrique Mancha
HMUA: Meryl Jiang

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