Beneath a line of mercury lights, a black sedan crawled along with the rest of the turnpike traffic, its polished surface reflecting the wet asphalt like some moving urban mirage. Rain dotted and streaked its darkened windows, hiding all but the faintest silhouette of the middle-aged man behind the wheel. He was a shadow in an endless sea of shadows that trailed out of Manhattan, and he was currently stuck on the highway leading out towards Newark Airport. His thumbs tapped anxiously against the steering wheel, his eyes darting repeatedly towards his watch, and then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a lighter. For a second, his features flared into sight as he lit a cigarette, the orange glow illuminating a handsome face with a head of sand brown curls, but as the flame snuffed out, the lines around his eyes betrayed any illusion of youth. Time seemed to be losing its kindness with him, and at a pace far faster than he liked.
Slowly, the traffic dissipated, affording him a flicker of hope, but as the minutes crept by he did the math, knowing Newark as well as he did.
“Call office,” he finally instructed his car.
The speakers crackled to life.
"Yeah, Peggy, I'm not gonna make this plane. Get me a flight out tomorrow sometime, and I'm gonna need a room at the Newark Marriot."
"I'll text you back with the new information," his assistant responded.
For a moment he thought to call her back, if only for the comfort of her voice, as the interior of his car felt like its own self-contained dimension – a lonely capsule streaking through a dead landscape of rusted refineries. He lowered his window a couple of inches, welcoming a sobering blast of moist heat, hoping to counteract the hypnotizing rhythm of his wipers, which were working to lull him to sleep. His fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose and then pressed up against his temple. Hunger added to his irritation, but it would be too late for room service now.
Opening the laptop on the seat beside him, he drove with one eye on the screen, trying to tap out a fast email to the client waiting on him in Japan. Within a second of ending the communication, he realized he'd missed his exit. Squinting at the road sign up ahead, he prayed it circled back near the airport. Getting lost in this god-forsaken armpit of a town was the last thing he needed tonight. His jaw clenched and ached as the airport passed to his right and slipped from his field of vision, his normally sharp mind trying hard to focus. He couldn’t remember much about the hotel, having stayed there only once before, but he remembered the city of Newark - a filthy, blighted urban eyesore that smelled like the port it surrounded.
Traffic slowed to a crawl again, as if somewhere far up ahead, each inch was being fought for. The man scrubbed a hand over his face, his stomach tightening into a knot, his eyes straining to make sense out of a gradually blurring world. Taking the next exit ramp, he was relieved to see a sign for the terminals, but even better - there was a shopping center - and a little glass window with the holy grail of blinking green neon words.