The Forgotten Late Night Drive


When I was about 17 years old, I had this fire engine red 1966 Ford Mustang convertible that my dad helped me fix up. I loved that car with all of my heart. Loyal readers of my blog may recall that I sold that car to pay for my initial camera gear post-college. It was a reluctant, but smart move for my career. Although, I digress… I believe that the Mustang and our exploration drives into country with nothing but a few mix cd’s and my Canon Elan 2 are what really inspired my early creative development. Without getting into detail, life at home during my teens was not the easiest, and my time with that car and my camera was my first true taste of independence and freedom that I could ever recall. Even if only for a few hours, I knew that I could go anywhere the open road and a tank of gas allowed. I would drive with the convertible top down on a 30 degree night, just to know what the wind felt like on my skin. Just the exhaust note and the excitement of leaving everything behind pushed me into a different mindset.

Such as life, as time progressed, responsibilities compiled, and life sped up, I forgot about my beloved freedom drives. I supposed being an adult with your own set schedule and bills takes away the true romantic “free” nature of my drives. As we grow, I think we take the basic most core important things such as happiness and freedom and the open road for granted…and I don’t blame us. Who has the time for such frivolities?

I don’t know what it was… Maybe it was turning 30 last year and looking back on things I have and have not accomplished in my life so far. I began to long for that feeling of true freedom, innocence, and adventure that I felt when I was 17. On some of my recent travel jobs to places like St Louis and Detroit, I have made it a point to take my rental car and my ipod and just drive… to explore cities that were new to me just to know what it felt like to explore again. I had no particular destination. I would just set a minor goal, such as to find a late night diner to grab a coffee and waffles, or a place to grab soft serve, or a location to get a good view of the city or the night sky. For example, there was something romantic about leaning against my rental car in a parking lot near the St Louis train tracks and just feeling the breeze and watching the city pulse from across the water. When I drove, it was not the destination. It was the reminder that the road was mine, as was my freedom.

As my editing schedule goes later into the night at my main residence near Washington DC, I have been forcing myself to drive my own car into the night… to explore places I have never been. Honestly, I dont necessarily feel compelled to take photos or capture the moments. I just want to experience, to feel and hear the sounds of the city. It sounds like a funny thing for a photographer to say, but sometimes we worry to much about capturing scenes, that we forget to actually live them.

My point in all of this is that we must remind ourselves that we need to step away from life’s structured schedule, get in the car, and just drive. For it was my favorite professor at RIT, Doug Manchee, that reminded me that essentially one of the best ways to keep inspired as a creative is to live and experience life. Maybe driving isn’t your thing. The same thing goes for walking outside on your own at night and experiencing how your town feels when it is asleep, empty, your to explore (make sure not to get mugged folks). I did the same a month back on a trip to my studio in Manhattan. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to walk 10 blocks to times square around 3am. It was almost a religious experience walking into times square with all of its magical lights glowing, but devoid of life.

However you define your personal “night drive”, take an opportunity to explore on your own. Forget the destination and just go. I know this may sound somewhat cliche, but most of us forget that we must detach ourselves from our routine and open our minds.

Let me know how it goes. I recommend the new Black Keys album for a soundtrack.

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Late Night Drive”

  1. Hey Doug. Thank you for this. I’ve only in the last few months become a reader and with this post, I was immediately prompted to write an email to a good friend of mine back home who happened to own the same car as I for his first vehicle. Back when I was in my teens I tore that car apart and rebuilt or improved countless components. It defined who I was as a person in those teenage years. I have very vivid memories of the most simple aspects of that past. Driving through the woods miles west of Milwaukee, WI at dusk as the light in the sky draped the black paint in a way that only happens once a day with a clear sky. Listening to certain music in certain places under certain circumstances. I am, to this day, defined by my vehicle. It isn’t something that everyone can understand and, given my recent relocation, it has been hard to not have that definition.

    I am currently living in Sydney, Australia. On a whim I decided to finalize commitments at home, sell my stuff, obtain a visa, quit my job and move here. I essentially brought a bunch of photo gear, my macbook and enough clothing to get by. I’ve settled in quite easily, partially thanks to chance and partially due to some active engagement on my part with the people who surround me.

    I’m very much a proponent of just going. To live and experience life as your professor so eloquently stated. We learn the most during these times, even if it’s a few hours or a number of years being in a new place, it’s critical to learn to take that leap.

    Thank you for a reminder of my past that has made me the man I am today. I couldn’t identify more with this post.


  2. I had an 87 mustang convertible when I was 17, we would take spontaneous drives All the time.
    Thats funny that you drive to take an editing break because I do the exact same thing. I’ll open the sunroof, crank some music and drive through Annapolis to clear my head.

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