Driveway moment: coined by NPR, a moment when you’re driving, listening to a radio show or a podcast that you’re enjoying so much that when you get to your destination, you don’t want to stop and get out. So you remain there, not in the street anymore, and not inside your destination, but in the driveway, continuing on with the moment that was supposed to end when you arrived where you were going.
I believe driveway moments can extend beyond listening to audio to include various liminal moments we wish would last longer. With my graduation date coming up, I’ve been reflecting on the driveway moments sprinkled throughout my time in college.
I was never one of those people you’d catch saying “college was the best years of my life!” I’d still never say that, because I hope for even better years ahead and because some of the hardest challenges I’ve faced also happened during college. Two of my close mentors from high school died unexpectedly freshman year. I failed an exam for the first time. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My heart broke more than once.
But it did also provide some of the best times of my life. My favorite moments often happened in driveways, in the in-betweens of the going-outs and the staying-ins. Though some do, these kinds of moments don’t all literally happen in a driveway, but somewhere not inside in the quiet and not outside in the noise either. Rather, they unfold right in the middle in the transition from one kind of space to another.
The first was when I found out I was accepted to USC. When decisions were being sent out, I trained my family to know that a big yellow envelope meant “time to celebrate” while a small white envelope meant “bring me ice cream every day for a week.” I drove home from school and pulled up to a handmade “FIGHT ON” banner on our front balcony. I broke down in tears in the driveway, enjoying my private victory before I’d share it with everyone else.
And the time I went to visit my best friend, Jackie, at her home in Beijing. When we pulled up to her house, I immediately felt comfortable. I knew her parents were inside and since they’ve become like family to me, I felt right at home, even in a country where I didn’t speak a word of the language. And sometime during those two weeks, hopping from Beijing to Shanghai, there was this moment when everything felt right, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. That feeling doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I take it as the universe reassuring me that everything in my life is on track.
I got that same feeling the night I met my last boyfriend – that everything was lining up just for us, especially since we both almost didn’t go to that Screenwriting Professor’s reunion. Later, he walked me home from the afterparty on our friend’s porch. After a few pauses on the walk to bathe in the glow of the stars and search for constellations, plus a few more attempts to delay the goodbye, we arrived at the top of my driveway. Under the spotlight of the stars, we peeled our bodies back from our long goodbye hug and he kissed me, the first of many. But after summer jumped into fall then faded into winter, it ended, as it does. The last time we talked about “us,” was while sitting on the curb outside my apartment. “I don’t know how I can be your friend while I still like you,” I told him. “It’s fine, we can do it,” he said, confidently. His tone usually always conveyed confidence, which I found comforting. “I’ll text you, and we’ll play Bananagrams so I can finally beat you.” All that followed was one last drunk kiss, some slightly awkward run-ins on campus, and the occasional text. He never beat me in Bananagrams because we never played again, but I don’t blame us – just two emotional, anxious, ambitious college kids trying to figure out how to love and be loved.
Then there was the last gameday tailgate of our senior year, sitting with Lili and Julia on our friend’s faded leather couch in his front yard. Comfortable, away from the chaos inside the house and far from the excitement at the game, we didn’t want to leave. We didn’t want this to be the last tailgate. Or the last game. Really, we didn’t want this to be the last of us, together, in college. So we sat, not talking, just being there. We stayed, we drank, we laughed, and eventually, we all went to the game together – a group of seniors who didn’t want their last game day to continue, because that would mean it would have to end.
One night spring semester, I had all four apartments in our house over for leftover Magnolia Bakery pudding from my birthday. We’d never hung out all together like that. It was fun, so a few days later, we all met on the front porch, between the street and the house, where we ate Girl Scout Cookies and talked. It was one of those classic college nights I’d always imagined: a handful of guys and girls, just sitting there, doing nothing, but doing it together.
If driveway moments were not meant to last more than a relative moment, could it be that all of college was a driveway moment? We left the comfort of our homes with our families and everything we knew, to be there for four years. Then we leave on the other side, with infinite possibilities of the real adult world, of careers and mortgages, engagements and births. In college, we could pretend for a while that all of that wasn’t the impending next chapter of our stories. We could ignore the feeling that the pages were closer to being turned after each late night of studying, partying, or just being together turned into deep conversations with meaningful friends and finally, sleep.
My favorite moments often happen in driveways, in the in-betweens of the going-outs and the staying-ins. That doesn’t mean I don’t value the other moments, however dull or overwhelming some may be. Those are important because they always seem to get me closer to my favorite moments – learning I was accepted to USC from a banner my sister made, feeling at home in China, kissing under the stars, and lounging on couches with friends, in yards and on porches.
And no matter what is going on in the development of my life, I can always go out to the driveway for a moment, to find balance and space in the in-between. We can always come back to those places that serve as the in-betweens of the secure and the chaotic, the scheduled and the spontaneous. We don’t have to let go of our friends and the moments we never wanted to end. I bet we will still have plenty more of those moments together, and plenty more apart.