It's three in the morning and I'm half-way through a three and a half hour drive. The previous day was spent trying to turn my "You've Got To Be Kidding Me" list to a "Humanly Possible" list. I was mostly successful, but there's no rest for the wicked. Not even the extremely wicked.
I have to stay awake, but more coffee isn't going to help a lot. I've been swilling it for the last couple days. I'm trying to keep going but I've been reduced to hanging off the steering wheel by my fingers, grimly keeping my car's nose between the dashed white lines on either side and behind the red lights in front of me like an analog version of Night Driver.
My schedule for this trip won't permit a nap stop, so I pull out the big guns — a mix CD that I save for just these occasions. It's an eclectic jumble of electronica, jazz, hard rock, jazz, fun and rousing movie and game themes. An epic drive needs an epic soundtrack, and the game music brings along the extra punch from playing the game.
The disk slides into the slot and the opening bombast of Dancing Mad thunders into my car's cockpit. The second theme skitters up my spine like a peal of Kefka's maniacal laughter, and I straighten a bit in my seat. The miles start to flow by as fast as my fingers flew through the menus trying to find a sequence of commands that would get one more Meteor pulled off before he Quaked my party back through the bedrock yet again.
The disk goes to the next track, but after a few eerily sonorous chords I skip ahead. It's The Hymn of the Fayth. Anyone who hasn't played Final Fantasy X might find that one peaceful. And at times I do. But at other times I can't escape the context the game's story gives it. Yu Yeavon's torturous eon of betrayal that destroyed his own people as well as his enemies has been ground into every measure by my several hundred hours of gameplay. With everything else going on, tonight it sours the notes. I can't stomach it.
The next segue brings us back to the oldest of old-school, but my finger hovers over the skip button. I'm wary. This is a strong draught, and I've been burnt by it before when I've quaffed too greedily. Clash on the Big Bridge is a huge sequence in Final Fantasy V where you thrash your way through a series of smaller battles across a broad stone bridge to face Gilgamesh himself. The years of blocky little sprites and midi beeps seem to rush back in, and I get overcharged. I made the mistake of playing this one while struggling through heavy traffic on the I-90 floating bridge one golden afternoon last summer, and while I didn't get a ticket, I probably deserved one.
A click and a frankly electronic pulse ripples out of the speaker. The long, slow build evokes the rising tension of one of the most gripping parts of the entire Mass Effect series. The tension echoes through my hands, gripping the steering wheel, slowly flowing down through all the muscles in my body. A quieter interlude gives me a moment to breathe, but then the choir rises, the strings crash in, and by the end it feels like the percussion section is pounding directly on your adrenal cortex instead of their instruments. That's what I had in mind!
Jolted upright, I fly along on the wings of several other favorites while the gray light of an overcast dawn washes away the rosy light-pollution underpainting the clouds. I see the second state trooper in the last five miles with someone else pulled over on the side of the road as they flash by my all-too-familiar adrenalin freeze-frame.
My finger hovers over the eject button again while I think. I want to get there faster, but I realize that getting stopped would definitely not help the situation. I'm as awake as I'm going to get for now, so I pull the disk for a collection of mostly harmless anime themes and classics that don't press my right foot down quite so hard.