After Kristine Langley Mahler

Because I didn’t want to pay for a hotel.1 Because I could afford to pay for a hotel, but it seemed like a waste.2 Because, as much as I enjoy sleeping in and then being lazy and watching TV in bed3, I wanted to get up and moving and on the road as soon as possible.4 Because I’d paid for and slept in a hotel the night before, and I’d do so again the night after, and I thought a night in my car would both save me a little money and make me appreciate the nights when I did get a hotel.5 Because, despite a near inability to make decisions regarding large amounts of money, I had just bought a new car.6 Because I had in every other car I’d ever owned, and so now I wanted to in this one, too.7 Because I had in my 20s and my 30s and I wanted to prove to myself I still could.8 Because I’d left the passenger seat empty as well as the seat behind it so I could fold it down as far as it would go.9 Because it made for a good story.10


1 Because I’d grown up with parents who always thought about money, always worried about it, fretted over and considered and reconsidered every financial decision, and that worry and fretting and considering and reconsidering is hard to shake.
2 Because I didn’t have a plan and so I just drove until I was tired, and sometimes that meant until it was pretty late, and I wanted to get up and back on the road in the morning, and so if it were just for a bed for a few hours, the cost-benefit ratio seemed off.
3 Because I didn’t have a TV at home, and so laying in bed and watching TV, even bad TV, maybe even especially bad TV, was a kind of treat specific to staying in hotels, even bad hotels, maybe even especially bad hotels.
4 Because there’s something exciting and energizing and life-affirming about waking up at sunrise; there’s something hard-to-describe about squinting into the light of the morning sun coming through a windshield and locking into your eyes.
5 Because sometimes, even when you can afford something, there is a specific kind of pride in finding an alternate option, in doing something another way, in moments of money saved.
6 Because I had just gotten a raise and because, although I didn’t yet explicitly know I was about to get divorced, I knew it implicitly enough, and because I knew I was about to drive across the country and because the savings in gas alone wouldn’t do that much to offset the cost of a car but it was at least something, and because I wanted to treat myself.
7 Because it felt like a kind of christening, a rite of passage, even if I wasn’t sure if for my car or me.
8 Because there can be something a little reassuring or comforting about these kinds of repeating or echoing or rhyming life moments, and because there is a kind of pride in doing something as you get older that may seem reserved, or at least better suited, for the young.
9 Because I hadn’t exactly planned to but I’d known I might.
10 Because sometimes it feels good to do something that you know is going to prompt someone to ask you why you would do that. Because sometimes it feels good to do something just because.

Aaron Burch is the author of the essay collection, A Kind of In-Between, and the editor of the craft anthology, How to Write a Novel: 20 Craft Essays About Writing, None of Which Ever Mention Writing, both out THIS WEEK from Autofocus Books. He is also the author ofYear of the Buffalo, Stephen King's The Body, and Backswing. He started the literary journal Hobart, which he edited for twenty years, and is currently the co-editor of WAS (Words & Sports), HAD, and Short Story, Long (on Substack). He lives in Michigan and is online: on Twitter and Instagram at @aaron__burch, and the world wide web at

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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