Every time I travel by car, by train or by air, I always feel like I’m in a time capsule. I’ve always thought about how strange it is to go into a mobilized enclosed space, stay there for varying periods of time and then emerge, still yourself, into a completely different place. Maybe it’s more of a space capsule than a time capsule. I can’t quite decide. Hours definitely tick away while you’re packed in your container. Little change happens inside, especially if you’re responsible for getting yourself where you’re going which is what car travel is like, particularly when you go alone. There are few distractions, no chores or tasks other than the driving itself.
Revery usually occurs in my head when I’m driving between the place where I came from until I arrive at the place where I’m going. Sometimes though, it’s stranger than revery. Despite the speed of travel and the need to focus on the road, I turn on music for a little company. Generally it’s my own music, pre-selected playlists with my favorite artists, sometimes accompanied by AI additions chosen based on my musical taste.
Things get both comfy and evocative inside my rolling container. And there are numerous moments when I feel like I’m not really in my current self, but back in other spaces that the music has released from the storage space of my memory. Last week I took a seven hour drive to visit a dear friend whose time with me goes back 50 years. As I rumbled along, thinking about all we knew about each other and how much of our seminal adult life we’d shared, I didn’t feel like I was doing the rote steering and braking and reading signs, following directions. I felt almost out of my body, back in the vivid memories which are so much a part of how my brain works. I don’t just think my memories. I see them, smell them and touch them. The sensory experience feels alive to me. I talked about this with my friend when I arrived at her home. She told me that she experienced memories in a more one-dimensional way and that one of the things that she thought most about what made me unique to her was that my pain, my joy and my memory were so powerful. And she said she was interested in the fact that I could transcend the emotion of them and use my intellect to override some of the more emotional aspects of those experiences. I appreciated her insight. The truth is that during my long drive to see her, I caught myself feeling that I’d been hallucinating events from long ago, in a good way as opposed to a scary way. I know something about hallucinations.
Back in my youthful days of drug experimentation, I approached the supposed cosmic experiences that people claimed they had with hallucinogens from a skeptical point of view. All around me, people were talking about how if you tried this drug or that drug, you would raise your consciousness or alter it, possibly forever. I never really believed that. Although I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the human body back then as I am today, I figured that whatever happened was just some chemical reaction and that you were who were no matter what drugs you did. Of course there were people who developed habits that were toxic and life-altering. Life damaging is perhaps a better description. Some made it back from those dark places and others didn’t. Other people had few if any side effects from what they ingested. I always believed that a real change in your consciousness was a deliberate intellectual process and I approached drug experimentation in that way.
The first time I decided to try LSD or more commonly, acid, I was armed with a yellow legal pad and a pen as I intended to record everything I was experiencing, using my mind to transcend the drug. I still have the sheet of paper I wrote that first time. It started out pretty clearly but it was obvious that staying focused was going to be tough considering the physiological effects happening in my brain and body. The one line I remember the most from that long night was that all that was happening to me was an exaggerated reality. Nothing was otherworldly. Everything was based on real life. I was, however, quite taken with the hallucinations that came along with tripping.
In my case, sizes and textures were visibly altered and I loved watching things move around in unusual ways. I guess it felt most like Alice going down the rabbit hole.
I remember watching my blue jeans swirl around in a paisley-like wiggly way and being enamored of the patterns. I could barely contain my laughter as I tried buying something, all the while watching my dollar grow and grow until it looked a giant bag. When I listened to music I was convinced I was hearing every instrument individually and simultaneously. For the most part, I had a lot of fun when I did those trips but they took a long time to do and a long time to recover from. And nothing really was any different when they were over. I was still just me. So that was a short-lived period in time.
But my memory hallucinations are a whole other matter. As I drove along, I was suddenly back in the kitchen in Michael’s apartment in 1971. By that time he and I had become the best of friends and although we were each involved with other people, we spent a lot of time together. We were standing side by side at the kitchen sink, washing and drying dishes and laughing at some story or other. He who so much taller than me, bent down on my right side to give me an affectionate kiss on my cheek. But I’d suddenly turned my head so his mouth landed on the corner of mine. And trite as though it may sound, I literally felt electricity course through my body. It was stunning because until that instant, I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to him as anyone other than a friend. I’m surprised I didn’t fall over.
That was an altering moment in my life. And as I zoomed along to Iowa, I was in that memory, from its start to its finish, feeling the same powerful surge in body that I felt then. So what’s up with that? Is it a flashback? Where’s the science behind it? I think there must be some but I have no idea what it might be, as I’ve tried as hard as I can to think how that could happen. And it wasn’t the only incident like that which happened during that car ride. The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album came on and I was standing in our family apartment at 2019 East 81st Street in Chicago.
I was waiting for Danny, the boy who I had a mad crush on, who told me he was bringing me a present. The year was 1967 and I’d turned 16 in May. The album was released a week later and I remember my joy, both at having it and having it come from him. I was feeling the quick hug he gave and literally staring down at the album jacket in my hands.
All the while I’m barreling down I-80, Iowa-bound. I had a lot of other moments like these on this journey. I’ve talked with my son-in-law who’s a chemistry professor about what may make someone like me have these odd moments that feel so alive in real time even though they’re long gone.
He talked about the evidence that now supports the idea of wavelengths being real and verifiable. He suggests that we still lack the technology that might answer questions like mine about memory, and others such as why people view certain events as examples of ESP. Maybe there just too much we don’t understand about how the brain works. All I know is that my mind is open to some of the off the beaten path experiences I feel. For example, I think I must emit some pheromone that helps induce sleeping in people. When someone rests against me for awhile, invariably that person will pass out. I come in very handy for crying, irritable babies. My kids nicknamed me “novocaine” for making their little ones numb out from their discomforts and just fall into deep sleep. It works on adults too.
I like my hallucinations. The good news is that they never are reflective of negative memories. I remember those more in black and white and in a cerebral way. Maybe that’s my brain’s way of protecting me. Otherwise, life could be too overwhelming. I don’t expect I’ll live long enough to ever have the answers I long for. But as the song goes, what a long, strange trip it’s been.