All night Wednesday, and all day Thursday, I tried to use my new understanding of her to figure out some meaning to the clues I had — some relationship between the map and the travel books, or else some link between the Whitman and the map that would allow me to understand her travelogue. But increasingly I felt like maybe she had become too enthralled with the pleasure of leaving to construct a proper bread crumb trail. And if that were the case, the map she had never intended for us to see might be our best chance to find her. But no site on the map was adequately specific. Even the Catskill Park dot, which interested me because it was the only location not in or near a big city, was far too big and populous to find a single person. “Song of Myself” made references to places in New York City, but there were too many locations to track them all down. How do you pinpoint a spot on the map when the spot seems to be moving from metropolis to metropolis?
I was already up and paging through travel guides when my parents came into my room on Friday morning. They rarely both entered the room at the same time, and I felt a ripple of nausea — maybe they had bad news about Margo — before I remembered it was my graduation day.
“Yeah. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal, but it’ll be fun.”
“You only graduate from high school once,” Mom said.
“Yeah,” I said. They sat down on the bed across from me. I noticed them share a glance and giggle. “What?” I asked.
“Well, we want to give you your graduation present,” Mom said. “We’re really proud of you, Quentin. You’re the greatest accomplishment of our lives, and this is just such a great day for you, and we’re— You’re just a great young man.”
I smiled and looked down. And then my dad produced a very small gift wrapped in blue wrapping paper.
“No,” I said, snatching it from him.
“Go ahead and open it.”
“No way,” I said, staring at it. It was the size of a key. It was the weight of a key. When I shook the box, it rattled like a key.
“Just open it, sweetie,” my mom urged.
I tore off the wrapping paper. A KEY! I examined it closely. A Ford key! Neither of our cars was a Ford. “You got me a car?!”
“We did,” my dad said. “It’s not brand-new — but only two years old and just twenty thousand miles on it.” I jumped up and hugged both of them.
“Yeah!” my mom almost shouted. I had a car! A car! Of my own!
I disentangled myself from my parents and shouted “thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you” as I raced through the living room, and yanked open the front door wearing only an old T-shirt and boxer shorts. There, parked in the driveway with a huge blue bow on it, was a Ford minivan.
They’d given me a minivan. They could have picked any car, and they picked a minivan. A minivan. O God of Vehicular Justice, why dost thou mock me? Minivan, you albatross around my neck! You mark of Cain! You wretched beast of high ceilings and few horsepower!
I put on a brave face when I turned around. “Thank you thank you thank you!” I said, although surely I didn’t sound quite as effusive now that I was completely faking it.
“Well, we just knew how much you loved driving mine,” Mom said. She and Dad were beaming — clearly convinced they’d landed me the transportation of my dreams. “It’s great for getting around with your friends!” added my dad. And to think: these people specialize in the analysis and understanding of the human psyche.
“Listen,” Dad said, “we should get going pretty soon if we want to get good seats.”
I hadn’t showered or dressed or anything. Well, not that I would technically be dressing , but still. “I don’t have to be there until twelve-thirty,” I said. “I need to, like, get ready.”
Dad frowned. “Well, I really want to have a good sight line so I can take some pic— ”
I interrupted him. “I can just take MY CAR,” I said. “I can drive MYSELF in MY CAR.” I smiled broadly.
“I know!” my mom said excitedly. And what the hell — a car’s a car, after all. Driving my own minivan was surely a step up from driving someone else’s.
I went back to my computer then and informed Radar and Lacey (Ben wasn’t online) about the minivan.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Actually that’s really good news. Can I stop by and put a cooler in your trunk? I gotta drive my parents to graduation and don’t want them to see.
QTHERESURRECTION: Sure, it’s unlocked. Cooler for what?
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Well, since no one drank at my party, there were 212 beers left over, and we’re taking them over to Lacey’s for her party tonight.
QTHERESURRECTION: 212 beers?
OMNICTIONARIAN96: It’s a big cooler.
Ben came online then, SHOUTING about how he was already showered and naked and just needed to put on the cap and gown. We were all talking back and forth about our naked graduation. After everyone logged off to get ready, I got in the shower and stood up straight so that the water shot directly at my face, and I started thinking as the water pounded away at me. New York or California? Chicago or D.C.? I could go now, too, I thought. I had a car just as much as she did. I could go to the five spots on the map, and even if I didn’t find her, it would be more fun than another boiling summer in Orlando. But no. It’s like breaking into SeaWorld. It takes an immaculate plan, and then you execute it brilliantly, and then — nothing. And then it’s just Sea-World, except darker. She’d told me: the pleasure isn’t in doing the thing; the pleasure is in planning it.
And that’s what I thought about as I stood beneath the showerhead: the planning. She sits in the minimall with her notebook, planning. Maybe she’s planning a road trip, using the map to imagine routes. She reads the Whitman and highlights “I tramp a perpetual journey,” because that’s the kind of thing she likes to imagine herself doing, the kind of thing she likes to plan.
But is it the kind of thing she likes to actually do ? No. Because Margo knows the secret of leaving, the secret I have only just now learned: leaving feels good and pure only when you leave something important, something that mattered to you. Pulling life out by the roots. But you can’t do that until your life has grown roots.
And so when she left, she left for good. But I could not believe she had left for a perpetual journey. She had, I felt sure, left for a place — a place where she could stay long enough for it to matter, long enough for the next leaving to feel as good as the last one had. There is a corner of the world somewhere far away from here where no one knows what “Margo Roth Spiegelman” means. And Margo is sitting in that corner, scrawling in her black notebook.
The water began to get cold. I hadn’t so much as touched a bar of soap, but I got out, wrapped a towel around my waist, and sat down at the computer.
I dug up Radar’s email about his Omnictionary program and downloaded the plug-in. It really was pretty cool. First, I entered a zip code in downtown Chicago, clicked “location,” and asked for a radius of twenty miles. It spit back a hundred responses, from Navy Pier to Deerfield. The first sentence of each entry came up on my screen, and I read through them in about five minutes. Nothing stood out. Then I tried a zip code near the Catskill Park in New York. Fewer responses this time, eighty-two, organized by the date on which the Omnictionary page had been created. I started to read.
Woodstock, New York, is a town in Ulster County, New York, perhaps best known for the eponymous Woodstock concert [see Woodstock Concert ] in 1969, a three-day event featuring acts from Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin, which actually occurred in a nearby town.
Lake Katrine is a small lake in Ulster County, New York, often visited by Henry David Thoreau.
The Catskill Park comprises 700,000 acres of land in the Catskill Mountains owned jointly by state and local governments, including a 5 percent share held by New York City, which gets much of its water from reservoirs partly inside the park.
Roscoe, New York , is a hamlet in New York State, which according to a recent census contains 261 households.
Agloe, New York , is a fictitious village created by the Esso company in the early 1930s and inserted into tourist maps as a copyright trap, or paper town.
I clicked on the link and it took me to the full article, which continued:
Located at the intersection of two dirt roads just north of Roscoe, NY, Agloe was the creation of mapmakers Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers, who invented the town name by anagramming their initials. Copyright traps have featured in mapmaking for centuries. Cartographers create fictional landmarks, streets, and municipalities and place them obscurely into their maps. If the fictional entry is found on another cartographer’s map, it becomes clear a map has been plagiarized. Copyright traps are also sometimes known as key traps, paper streets, and paper towns [see also fictitious entries ]. Although few cartographic corporations acknowledge their existence, copyright traps remain a common feature even in contemporary maps.
In the 1940s, Agloe, New York, began appearing on maps created by other companies. Esso suspected copyright infringement and prepared several lawsuits, but in fact, an unknown resident had built “The Agloe General Store” at the intersection that appeared on the Esso map.
The building, which still stands [needs citation ], is the only structure in Agloe, which continues to appear on many maps and is traditionally recorded as having a population of zero.
Every Omnictionary entry contains subpages where you can view all the edits ever made to the page and any discussion by Omnictionary members about it. The Agloe page hadn’t been edited by anyone in almost a year, but there was one recent comment on the talk page by an anonymous user:
fyi, whoever Edits this — the Population of agloe Will actually be One until may 29th at Noon.
I recognized the capitalization immediately. The rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle of a sentence . My throat tightened, but I forced myself to calm down. The comment had been left fifteen days ago. It had been sitting there all that time, waiting for me. I looked at the clock on the computer. I had just under twenty-four hours.
For the first time in weeks, she seemed completely and undeniably alive to me. She was alive. For one more day at least, she was alive. I had focused on her whereabouts for so long in an attempt to keep me from obsessively wondering whether she was alive that I had no idea how terrified I’d been until now, but oh, my God. She was alive.
I jumped up, let the towel drop, and called Radar. I cradled the phone in the crook of my neck while pulling on boxers and then shorts. “I know what paper towns means! Do you have your handheld?”
“Yeah. You should really be here, dude. They’re about to make us line up.”
I heard Ben shout into the phone, “Tell him he better be naked!”
“Radar,” I said, trying to convey the importance of it. “Look up the page for Agloe, New York. Got it?”
“Yes. Reading. Hold on. Wow. Wow. This could be the Catskills spot on the map?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s pretty close. Go to the discussion page.”
“I know, I know!” I shouted. I didn’t hear his response because I was pulling my shirt on, but when the phone got back to my ear, I could hear him talking to Ben. I just hung up.
Online, I searched for driving directions from Orlando to Agloe, but the map system had never heard of Agloe, so instead I searched for Roscoe. Averaging sixty-five miles per hour, the computer said it would be a nineteen-hour-and-four-minute trip. It was two fifteen. I had twenty-one hours and forty-five minutes to get there. I printed the directions, grabbed the keys to the minivan, and locked the front door behind me.
“It’s nineteen hours and four minutes away,” I said into the cell phone. It was Radar’s cell phone, but Ben had answered it.
“So what are you going to do?” he asked. “Are you flying there?”
“No, I don’t have enough money, and anyway it’s like eight hours away from New York City. So I’m driving.”
Suddenly Radar had the phone back. “How long is the trip?”
“Nineteen hours and four minutes.”
“According to who?”
“Crap,” Radar said. “None of those map programs calculate for traffic. I’ll call you back. And hurry. We’ve got to line up like right now!”
“I’m not going. Can’t risk the time,” I said, but I was talking to dead air. Radar called back a minute later. “If you average sixty-five miles per hour, don’t stop, and account for average traffic patterns, it’s going to take you twenty-three hours and nine minutes. Which puts you there just after one P.M., so you’re going to have to make up time when you can.”
“What? But the—”
Radar said, “I don’t want to criticize, but maybe on this particular topic, the person who is chronically late needs to listen to the person who is always punctual. But you gotta come here at least for a second because otherwise your parents will freak out when you don’t show when your name is called, and also, not that it is the most important consideration or anything, but I’m just saying — you have all our beer in there.”
“I obviously don’t have time,” I answered.
Ben leaned into the phone. “Don’t be an asshat. It’ll cost you five minutes.”
“Okay, fine.” I hooked a right on red and gunned the minivan— it had better pickup than Mom’s but only just barely— toward school. I made it to the gym parking lot in three minutes. I did not park the minivan so much as I stopped it in the middle of the parking lot and jumped out. As I sprinted toward the gym I saw three robed individuals running toward me. I could see Radar’s spindly dark legs as his robe blew up around him, and next to him Ben, wearing sneakers without socks. Lacey was just behind them.
“You get the beer,” I said as I ran past them. “I gotta talk to my parents.”
The families of graduates were spread out across the bleachers, and I ran back and forth across the basketball court a couple times before I spotted Mom and Dad about halfway up. They were waving at me. I ran up the stairs two at a time, and so was a little out of breath when I knelt down next to them and said, “Okay, so I’m not going [breath] to walk, because I [breath] think I found Margo and [breath] I just have to go, and I’ll have my cell phone on [breath] and please don’t be pissed at me and thank you again for the car.”
And my mom wrapped her hand around my wrist and said, “What? Quentin, what are you talking about? Slow down.”
I said, “I’m going to Agloe, New York, and I have to go right now . That’s the whole story. Okay, I gotta go. I’m crunched for time here. I have my cell. Okay, love you.”
I had to pull free from her light grasp. Before they could say anything, I bounded down the stairs and took off, sprinting back toward the minivan. I was inside and had the thing in gear and was starting to move when I looked over and saw Ben sitting in the passenger’s seat.
“Get the beer and get out of the car!” I shouted.
“We’re coming with,” he said. “You’d fall asleep if you tried to drive for that long anyway.”
I turned back, and Lacey and Radar were both holding cell phones to their ears. “Gotta tell my parents,” Lacey explained, tapping the phone. “C’mon, Q. Go go go go go go.”