A road trip. An all night one, as in six of us started out at 4 in the afternoon and headed off for Florida in a Toyota minivan. Five drivers, and we hope to be there tomorrow afternoon about the same time.
It’s been over 20 years since I’ve done this, back when out kids were little and we wanted to drive while they were sleeping. It was a bad idea then, since when you got where you were going the kids were awake and you wanted to sleep. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea now, since the kids can drive and we can sleep.
Spring break, and we are heading home. Home for me, anyway. I will smell the salt air, and buy some fish at the fish market and take a walk on the beach. Sometime Saturday I will take a deep breath and relax, sitting in the back yard at my folks, watching the pelicans out on the oyster bar out in the bay. The sound of the water lapping up against the sea wall, the wild parrots in the nearby palm, the hint of citrus in the air: I will be home. Maybe I’ll post a picture.
But in the meantime there is about 1200 miles of I-75 to deal with. Actually, this interstate seems like home. I’ve spent most of my life along the I-75 corridor, from southern Michigan to south Florida.
As a kid, there was no interstate, and we traveled back and forth on US 41 between our family home in Naples and Chattanooga where my dad attended college. I remember a couple of times when dad and his preacher buddy friends would make that drive over night, at reckless speeds through sleepy Georgia towns, and they could do it in about the same amount of time I later made the same trip on the Interstate with kids who had to stop and go to the bathroom.
And there were trips north, too, to my mom’s great aunt’s boarding home near Kent State University. The Interstate was a great boon when you were a kid, and it cut hours off the trip to Ohio. But there was still time to play “silo-I-beat,” a road trip game at which I was the undisputed and legendary champion with my own kids, until the boys became teen-agers with sharp eyes and a competitive spirit.
When I was in college I had two girl friends (not at the same time) who lived up north, and I drove to Cleveland one summer to see Lynn, who broke up with me and sent me back along the corridor with a broken heart. I later made several trips to see Katie at her home near Toledo, and later asked her to marry me at Cumberland Falls, a state park in southern Kentucky. We went there on our honeymoon.
We married in Chattanooga, and later I went to grad school in Knoxville, both on I-75, and we had her family at one end of the road and my family at the other end, and we have driven one way or the other dozens of times.
So I know this road. And perhaps it is home too, a strip of asphalt that connects the people I love. I drive it without a map, and know the exits where I might want to stop and the exits where I don’t. I know where the first Cracker Barrel is heading south, and the first one headed north. I know the stretches where there are no gas stations or rest areas. I know where they start putting sugar in the tea.
Tonight, it is almost 10. Katie is driving, and I’m beside her, pecking away on my laptop. We’re getting close to Cincinnati, where we cross the Ohio River in to Covington, where the church steeples are majestic. She wants to drive to Lexington.
We ate chicken salad sandwiches on croissants driving through central Ohio, and now Michael and Pilgrim are falling asleep in the back seat, listing to their head phones, having played cards with Christian and his wife Ann for a while. Christian is playing word games on his laptop and Katie and Ann are exchanging family histories. A daughter-in-law is a new thing for us, but we like it.
A lot is new, actually, along the road and in my life. Children. Cracker Barrel. Croissants. Computers. But it is still the same distance.
It’s a long road, and a comfortable one. It’s a road overrun with tractor trailers and RVs with Michigan plates. It’s a road where my heart anticipates reunion, an important road where I first learned the arts of pilgrimage.