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Poetic license

We’re driving down I-75, frantically trying to get to the downtown post office in time to get our income tax returns mailed.

This happens every year – we moan, groan, procrastinate and stall, hoping that the longer we wait, the easier the numbers will become. ("That’s what you get for skipping out of high school algebra," says the Lizard of Fun, tapping away on its adding machine. "Now, how do I find the square root of negative 12? I think that’s about what I earned in ’98.") And then the mad dash to the car, and the exhilarating feeling of arriving at the post office along with a fleet of cars, all carrying drivers who are also handing their tax returns to tired-looking postal workers on the street outside. ("Yeah, you just don’t get that sense of community many other places, these days," says the Lizard. "We’re all in this together. Whooo.")

We’re about to head into the home stretch, when those orange-and-white-striped traffic barrels start to appear on the side of the road. "Whoa, watch the Schneider egg!" shouts the Lizard, as I skim past one, nearly hitting it.

"The what?"

"Those orange Schneider transport trucks. They lay these barrels. It’s how they reproduce. Kind of like lizards. Look out!"

I slam on the brakes just in time to avoid hitting one of those flashing arrow signs that tells drivers to get over into the other lane.

"You want me to drive?" the Lizard asks. "I got the high score on Gran Turismo yesterday. And this is obviously too fast-paced for you."

"Not any more," I snap. Traffic has come to a standstill. We’ve got 15 minutes to get our taxes in, and we’re stuck in construction. Great.

The Lizard, unworried, lounges in the passenger seat, its feet on the dashboard, scribbling in purple crayon on the back of its tax return envelope.

"What rhymes with freeway?" it asks, adjusting its beret.

"Seaway? Like the St. Lawrence Seaway?" I suggest.

"Naaah, too fluid," it says. "I need something more sluggish. Like tar."

"Tar doesn’t rhyme with freeway."

"No, but it does rhyme with car, which is good. I can work with that."

It turns out the Lizard is composing verse in honor of April, which is National Poetry Month. ("I think it has something to do with T.S. Eliot," says the Lizard. "He hated doing his taxes, too, so he put that line in The Wasteland: ‘April is the cruelest month.’")

I edge over to squeeze in behind a SUV that looks ready to go off-road on the freeway embankment. "How can you see anything poetic in this?"

"Don’t you get it? Cars, poetry, roads – they just go together!" The Lizard gives me that look again – the one that says, "Freak girl, when are you going to catch up to this week?"

Of course. Cars, roads, freeways, literature. "Yeah, like On the Road, by Jack Kerouac," says the Lizard. "Or Christine, by Stephen King. OK, maybe scratch the literature part for that one."

That connection is why the VW Bug marketing folks are including a book of poetry with every Bug purchased this month. Why we’re driven to sing rhyming songs on road trips. ("Maybe you are," smirks the Lizard.) Why we love putting bumper stickers on our cars: Driving on freeways is dull as gray concrete unless we’ve got something to read besides "detour" signs.

"I wrote a thing you can read," says the Lizard. "I think it’s breathless."

"You mean deathless."

"Whatever."

Before it hands its tax return envelope to the waiting postal worker, the Lizard puffs itself up, and recites the poem it’s been working on.

"I call it, ‘Ode to the Road Crew,’" says the Lizard, blushing modestly. "Since they’re funded by our taxes and all. It’s inspired by my favorite poet, Dr. Seuss."

A freeway is perfect, for most of the year,

for driving around in a cruise-speed gear.

But come winter, that story begins to change

and the logic of freeways gets all rearranged.

Potholes! Damn potholes! They grow in the night

on highways and byways and surface streets too

Until there’s nothing a driver can do,

but to swerve all around them – dodge left and dodge right!

We rack up our cars, with dings and with dents

and report, sad-faced, to our insurance agents.

But the damage, alas, will not be undone

until freeway crews arrive under April’s weak sun.

All hail! All hail! The great workers in orange

who fill in the holes with asphalt and tar,

and let us drive once more in our wonderful cars.

Because without them, we couldn’t go fast at all, and that would suck.

I shake my head. "I don’t think Dr. Seuss would like the last line."

"Fine," says the Lizard. "You think of a rhyme."

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