There’s something so Americana about the riding in the front passenger’s seat of a car. For me, movies like Grease pop into my head and I see all the greasers at the drive-in. For others, riding shotgun invokes memories of childhood, riding alongside their parents on road-trips or sitting alongside a friend during their first time driving as a licensed adult. Like our other pieces of short creative nonfiction, these stories are uniquely our own yet share a common theme. We invite you to read our tales, and add your own to the comments below.
“Shotgun!” She yelled. That meant that I was in the backseat. Her new boyfriend was driving. He was a friend of both of ours before they started dating; he was also a really nice guy. I had just gotten hired at my first job. We were all going out that night to celebrate. I got into the backseat, behind the passenger’s seat, and we were on our way. We were about a block from my house when we were rear ended in an intersection. It had happened so quickly and unexpectedly that not one of us looked back to see the car that had hit us pull back into the intersection, change directions, and drive away. No one pulled over to see if we were okay. I was dazed. “Are you guys alright?” the driver asked. “I think so,” his girlfriend replied. “I think I broke your passenger seat headrest with my head,” I replied as I looked at the damage. It was definitely bent in a way it shouldn’t have been bent. His girlfriend was leaning against the window instead of the headrest, at least, so I didn’t hurt her with my big, thick, seat-breaking skull. “Is your head okay?” he asked as he turned around to see if I were more damaged than his car. “Just a little stunned, I guess,” was my reply. We didn’t call the cops because we didn’t want his car insurance to go up. We were young and stupid and not sure how to proceed with these kinds of incidences. The only real damage to his car was a dented bumper, and the shock the three people inside the car were in didn’t register with any of us. We went to the mall that night and I spent my first paycheck on posters. Let me repeat that: I spent $75 on posters – really shitty posters from Spencers. I probably should have spent that money on an emergency room visit to make sure my head was okay. In the morning, we found that Mindy, the woman driving, had left an imprint of her vanity plate on my friend’s bumper – 5MINDY5. We called the cops then, but they told us because we didn’t report the hit and run at the scene of the accident, there was nothing we could do. We just had to live with our sore necks and the fact that Mindy is a bitch.
By Amanda Riggle
I called shotgun in case I had to take my shirt off. It seemed safer. The name of the game escapes me, but it involved risk and the removing of clothes—it screamed “I’m sixteen” and “Fuck you, Dad.” We watched the streetlights as the car neared the intersection, waiting for a flash of yellow. The boys waiting for the sight of bare skin and the girls waiting to be seen. I sat, spine leaning forward and hand clutching the door handle. The light turned. “Slow down,” it said. I slapped the ceiling with the back of my hand, hearing the loud thuds of the others who followed. I always had quick reflexes. Bunny rabbit girl.
A month earlier, we played battle of the sexes in health class. The girls lost in every category, except for reflex. The teacher dropped the yardstick above the empty space between my thumb and fingers. And the bunny rabbit girl closed her fist before she could remember to hold her breath. You had to move fast.
Stacy took off her top and threw it in my lap, the soft cotton brushing against my thigh. Her hand was the last to hit. And he draped his arm against the back of my seat, his fingers delicately wrapping around my shoulder. He was leaving tomorrow. To a college in another state. I figured, what better way to say goodbye.
By Melanie Figueroa
He looked nervous as he dropped me off at my car. He was twiddling his thumbs on his steering wheel. He unbuckled his seatbelt as I struggled to figure out a way to carry all my books. I like books, and I had bought too many from a used book store out in L.A. He offered to drive because I didn’t want to drive. We had had dinner together. It was a good night. I just didn’t know if it was a date. I can never tell. Do I make him too nervous to make a move or is he just not interested in me like that? I’m not pretty. I’m not skinny. I’m not quiet. I’m not the usual girl guys pursue. I know that. But I’m also a great friend. My default mode with everyone is to treat them like a new best friend. I smiled as I tried to jam another book into my bag. It wouldn’t fit. It looks as if my hands were pretty full. He looked over at me and shot me a nervous smile. I smiled yet again. We smile at each other a lot. Is that flirting? He made a motion like he was going to get out of his car, but I panicked. “You can give me an awkward car hug,” I offered. “Oh, okay,” he said, gave me another smile, and wrapped one arm around my shoulders as I sat in his passenger seat. I blew it. I think?
By Amanda Riggle
I watch my mother, her skin slick with sweat, as she helps the boys lift the refrigerator into the back of the old ford truck we borrowed from the neighbor. The muscles in her thick arms tighten, and when they’re finished, she presses her hand to her lower back and stretches. If I try to help, they tell me to go tape up boxes, but not to lift anything. The metal cage holding my spine together might open. I’d spill out onto the floor like jam—just another mess to clean.
At the new house that we share with another family, I have my own bedroom. I try to hold on to that as we drive away. I roll down the window and let my arm hang out—feeling the breeze lift the strands of hair falling around my face. At the light, she reaches for my leg and pats it gently.
“I’m fine,” I say. She pulls away. The light turns green, the truck lurches forward, and she slowly turns the wheel. I slide down the smooth seat, pressing against the door as we turn. It pops open, and I begin to tumble out. Just another mess to clean. I feel her warm hand on my arm, just as my legs begin to hit the air, and when we straighten, I quickly reach for the door and slam it shut.
“I’m fine,” I say. She looks at me, her brow furrowed. I want to say thank you. Thank you for saving me. But I don’t. I just smile. And we laugh—trying to forget that it was all licking at our heels.
By Melanie Figueroa
She was the most irresponsible driver I had ever had the displeasure of driving with. I was stuck in her passenger seat as she took a long drag off of her cigarette. She laughed between puffs and spoke of alcohol, weed, men, or fucking. She had a one track mind. Well, two track – drugs and men. I was working on a class project with her and I was trying to be friendly. Sometimes I hated that part of myself – the part that always tries to be someone’s friend. I did not want to be her friend, but I wanted a good grade. Her phone started to ring. She answered it, while driving, while still smoking her cigarette. She had no hands on the wheel and started to veer into opposing traffic. I grabbed her wheel. “I was steering with my knees; it’s okay,” she insisted. I ripped the phone from her hand “She’s driving – she’ll have to call you back.” She laughed and put one hand back on the wheel. She finished her cigarette, fished around in her purse while yet again not paying attention to traffic, and pulled out another cigarette. Maybe I could work on this project alone.
By Amanda Riggle