If you’re lucky, you get to travel through life collecting a vast array of experiences that bring you pleasure. And if you are really lucky you are able to re-live them to the end. Some of the best memories may leave you for a while but return exactly the moment you need them. I consider myself lucky, but not in the usual “win the lottery” way (Lawd knows I’ve been a-tryin’). I have a stockpile of odd little blocks of time that never fail to pick me up. A butterfly landing on my knee or being first in line for anything. Many of the things that hit my spot outside the world of comedy are tiny, barely noticeable events.

There is a sound I have been obsessed with since I was a kid. I have not heard it regularly in years, but when I do it automatically calms and soothes me. When I first heard this wonderful noise, it was the dead of night and it has always been my favorite time of day since. It resembles a lover’s breath looming over your neck and ear.

The only way this sound is produced as far as I know is in a car. The radio is off and the windows are down. The last thing you need is a quiet residential street. Driving less than 25 mph, maybe looking for a parking space, a sweet swoosh sound is created as you pass other cars. It has three distinct parts. You hear part one−a kind of “swoo” sound−followed by the middle “ooo”−and “sh” comes at the end. With the decrease in speed, the middle part is prominent. I don’t know why but I absolutely love it.

I believe the first time I remember hearing this sound was the end of a road trip from Detroit to DC. Every summer my family drove the 16-hour trip to visit both my parents folks. We’d end up near Rock Creek Park at my Aunt Barbara’s or my mom’s mom on Taylor Street NW. When the car slowed, the swooshes became softer and carried the knowledge that we were seconds away from reaching our destination.

The last time I heard this sound was quite by accident. I was in a cab in NY during summertime. I opted for no air conditioning as the driver reeked of the standard cabbie odor. I would not have survived the drive without fresh air. Between the street noise and the cabbie talking on his cell, I almost missed it. Turning off Broadway onto my street, I heard it as the cab slowed to drop me off. Suddenly, the odoriferous cab driver and all the other pains of NY city life drifted away.


William Stephenson

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