What is the power of a first memory? They are such peculiar creatures, these fuzzy impressions and garbled snapshots that teach us how to see the world. I’m pretty sure my first memory is bawling at the mannequin in the opening credits of Happy Days, which led to a childhood phobia that required my mom to cover my eyes whenever we entered a department store. This gradually mellowed into a grown-up interest in the uncanny valley.

Another early memory came to mind the other night while I idled in a Taco Bell parking lot and ate a Crunchwrap Supreme because sometimes I hate myself. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I caught a shift in the light that left me remembering a hot summer night spent laying in the backseat while Superman played at a drive-in theater (or, after doing the math, more likely Superman II). My parents sat in the front seats watching, but I was facing the other direction, staring out the back window at a red neon horse with wings. It was the old Pegasus sign for Mobil gas station, and I remember thinking that winged creature in the sky must have something to do with words like heaven and god.

My first reaction to this memory is sorrow for my parents because I’m sure they didn’t choose the movie. So there they were, dutifully watching Superman II on my behalf while I preferred to watch a gas station sign. But I have a hunch this small moment cemented my lifelong fixation on night driving and lonesome gas stations.