Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Detour Ahead

I found this today in Google Drive. It was an old file I'd put in Google Docs to try it out.  It made Cay smile, and I thought I'd better preserve it.
Detour Ahead

It was hot, and the car seemed like a convection oven, made all the worse by the constant complaining in the back seat.
“It’s hot. It’s so hot. Can we go home?”

We were going home. We just didn’t know where home was yet. We’d only been driving about 18 hours, the driving rain in Pennsylvania giving way to clear heat that was more than a little oppressive. Sweat trickled down my forehead and into my eyes, which I wiped impatiently away. The south is no place for a northerner, especially as summer starts to heat up.

“We’re going home.” I voiced my own thoughts. Then decided that wasn’t comfort enough. “You’re going to love it there. There are manatees, and dolphins, and you’ll be able to swim in the ocean every day.”

“I don’t WANT to swim in the ocean!” my teenage son said petulantly in the front seat. “I want to have AIR CONDITIONING.”

“Where ever we go, we’ll have air conditioning.” I said.

“Then I want to live somewhere where we don’t NEED air conditioning,” he whined.

I sighed. The future, I knew, was ahead, like it or lump it, we were going. Everything we owned had been packed up in the back of the van, the remainder sold for gas money, on the verbal promise of a job. It was more than risky. It was a leap of faith, and I took it, dragging my kids over the edge with me and only hoping we’d land on our feet.

“We’re going” I said. “Everything we want is THERE, so we’re going. You’ll get used to it.”

What followed was a three hour litany from all of the children on what we were leaving behind, what they imagined they’d never have again, and what life would be like in a place they imagined was literally hotter than Hell.

The highway narrowed to two lanes, then to one, then came the dreaded sign: DETOUR AHEAD.

I looked over at my son who was holding my trusty map, my route marked out comfortably in orange highlighter showing the way. The detour would take me away from my next junction, and I’d have to plot a new course. We took the detour, pulled off at the first exit, and pulled out the green marker I use for mapping en route. The four of us poured over the map in dismay. The big thick red lines were going away from where we wanted to go, it would add a long time to the trip. But there was a little thin black line that cut through the state on a diagonal, was it a shortcut?

We took a vote, then decided to take the shorter route and piled back into the car. Our moment of co-operation was short lived.

“Navigate.” I told my son. “I don’t have the state memorized.”

He reluctantly agreed. We missed our exit three times, driving back and forth over the same stretch of road until our nerves were tight and hot as the steaming blacktop. With a cool sigh of relief, we pulled onto a small street with out route marker.

It was definitely no highway, and I felt a sense of misgiving.

When I travel, I have a motto: there is no such thing as lost. When you hit the ocean you know you’ve gone too far. I was confident if we just kept driving, we’d be fine.

We drove through farmland, then scrubby woods, watching the soil turn from rich dark brown to pale red. It was getting on towards lunch time, but the kids were not complaining. The dust along the road painted orange streaks along the blue green grass under gnarled trees. Now and then we’d come to a town, where there was little more than a general store and a stop light. We wondered who came there, and if anyone lived there anymore. We saw few, if any, cars.

Then we pulled in to one small town. It had a big high school near the road, a small diner, a five and dime that was actually open, and an ice cream parlor. The kids knew we were short on cash, so when I impulsively pulled into the ice cream parlor they just gaped.

There were cars in the parking lot, so I knew the place was good. A bunch of bikers stood disreputably along the side of the building, then walked up to a elderly woman in a calico dress that had probably been around as long as she had. I tensed, then laughed as the biker took her arm tenderly and led her to the door, while another opened the door for her. 

An old man in rags stumbled down the street, and one of the waitresses went out to meet him, a sandwich in her hand. He smiled and thanked her, and continued on his way.

We ordered our ice cream cones, and went out and leaned on the hood of the car, telling each other stories about the people we saw pass by. The old woman had lost her husband in the war, we decided, and the bikers were her husband’s sister’s grandchildren, who still looked in on her from time to time and drove her to church on Sundays. We imagined driving around the corner and seeing a “help wanted: teachers: inquire within” sign on the side of the high school, and turning around and taking a hotel there until I started my new job. Buying one of the little run down houses and fixing it up and making it ours. Walking down to the ice cream parlor after church on Sunday and telling stories.

I sighed, felt a moment of rightness, and a moment of reluctance. We could leave this little corner of paradise and go on. What else would we find? What loves in unexpected places?
I asked the children.

“If it’s so good here,” they said, “It could be good there, too.”

We continued on the trip, the small road making way to the large road, making way to the highway, on our way down to the ocean.