We’d leave overnight – sometimes after bedtime. I’d be sleeping in my clothes, with the anticipation finding me facedown on the bed, with one sock hanging slightly off. It’s the half sleep of someone who knows she’s going to be woken up soon for a 12 hour drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. One of my parents would come to my door, with the car already loaded with seven suitcases and road trip essentials. “It’s time,” they would say. And indeed, it was time.
My dad is a nighttime driver, and daytime too, but the fact that he had the stamina to drive a family of seven from around 8pm – 9am or so amazes me as a parent of two, almost three. Maybe it was the quiet of the night – without bickering or slow drivers. Just an open road and two weeks of straight sunny fun. My mom would make up a giant cooler of bologna sandwiches, snacks, fruits, and drinks. There were no timing rules on the road. If you could enjoy your sandwich at 11pm, watching the dark blurs of Route 95, then why not? It’s still fun to imagine what all those dark shapes and wonders are in the daylight. To this day, bulldozers are dinosaurs and hotels are castles. Even more so now that I have kids, but that part of me never even faded.
My mom can read in the car and can fall asleep anywhere. I can’t read in the car, but I can fall asleep in it. This is a skill I didn’t possess as a kid – I thrived on being the only kid, the only person other than my dad who was wide awake. Who knows if I ever slept at all during those nights? Sometimes during the night, you fall in and out of sleep by the hour or half hour, and it can make you feel like you’ve been wide awake the entire time. You haven’t, though. You fall in and out of waking and sleeping dreams; of half moons and blurry shapes and wonders too. Sometimes every time you fall asleep, just so, you wake up to a startle or a car horn or a 4:00am traffic jam, or to the shape and sound of your own heart. There’s always something there to see.
Our trip generally ended one hour before the destination. I don’t remember if we met friends or had a specific McDonald’s in mind – based on tradition and highway accessibility – but that was the one time a year I’d have McDonald’s breakfast. Then we’d all seven be wide awake on the road, shouting out the sights of fireworks shops, mini golf adventures, and eventually – our first glimpse of the sea. Wide and blue, but never changing. Our reward at the end of a painless 12 hour road trip; and at the end of the road where our overly air conditioned condo proudly stood.
2020 was our first year without a Cape Cod vacation, which was partly due to no longer having a Cape Cod house and partly due to pandemics and pregnancy, but mostly pandemics, and for trying to save money for a project I haven’t talked about nearly enough yet. It’s sort of too big. All I can tell you is that when I walk out of my front door and turn right, even only hours after having done it previously, I don’t even know where I am anymore. The landscape is changing.
That annual Cape Cod vacation for ten years, though. It wasn’t 12 hours, ever, but we would leave in the middle of the night to avoid Cape traffic. Cape Cod traffic is a bear, probably not unlike the Baltimore or DC traffic my dad was trying to avoid. You get the same rewards on the journey. Are we there yet? Of course not. Have you seen the giant windmill that looks like it’s slicing cars in the middle of the road? Have we crossed the bridge at sunset yet? Have we seen the shacks and shops with floats and swans strapped to their roofs? Then there’s the first glimpse of the ocean, although we had to get all the way to the end to get to that reward. There’s the restaurant, Moby Dick’s, where we’d all shout with an emphasis on the second word, because we’re all 12-years-old at heart. We get squirrelly through the last hour on the road.
I’ve been waiting five+ months, to be there yet. I no longer know what “there” is. I think that’s the problem. It’s not just that the novelty of the novelty of the hunkering down in the pandemic has worn off. It’s that morale is low when you can no longer pretend to assign deadlines and dates to it. Two weeks off of school? Well, that’s annoying, but sure. Let’s do it for safety. Until two weeks grew and overstretched and got bloated into a murky amount of time. And now who knows what it will take? A new President? Well, no. One person/administration can’t change this. A vaccine? Well, no. People are fighting against one, even though there’s nothing to fight against or for. Yet. And will it be 73% effective? 100%? Will it be mandatory? I don’t think so but to even be widespread would take months and months. Two weeks used to sound like a lot. Now it’s widespread and stormy, and nothing like a calm blue sea reward. Are we there yet? Well, no.
Will we recognize the familiar sights when we’re close? Herd immunity or vaccines or the strange silence of a defeated virus, stamped into the earth, never to return, or at least not in full force? Sometimes it all seems too good to be true, even though we all know its end is inevitable. More so than our own. There’s talk of social distancing and mask wearing, to some extents, for one, two, even three years. And then of course, we have the trauma and panic, that might last forever, or only as long as the pandemic, or won’t even make a dent. What is safe anymore, anyway? And are we there yet? What if climate change is the really big bad guy at the end of the video game, and all of these viruses and arguments are just more of the same of this:
It’s enough to keep you awake at night, but not in that beautiful way in which you eat peanut butter sandwiches in one state, and watch your dad maneuver the way across another state line. No, this is wondering when and if you’ll ever sail down the open road with glee again. Or if your kids will? Well, of course they will. They know nothing else but to point out the fireworks shops and mini golf adventures. They know nothing else but to point out sea shacks and floaty swans strapped to roofs. Some lucky family will get that swan, oh yes. Or the pleasure of borrowing it..
If you close your eyes, can you see it too? Still? Where bulldozers look like dinosaurs, pointy top hotels look like castles, and you are the royalty of the open road. Looking for delights, or hurtling past them while your kids do more of the same, their faces pressed against open or closed glass windows. Are we there yet? Can you see us getting close? What will it look like; will we know it?
That first glimpse of open sea, or your overly air-conditioned condo. The ability to sail through the roads and the waters, your only fears being the occasional shark or storm cloud ahead.
I’m linking up with Finish The Sentence Friday (FTSF) for a new prompt. This week’s awesome Mardra topic is “Are We There Yet? (photo prompt).” You can link up your own post HERE.