The other day I asked a girlfriend about her Thanksgiving weekend, where her daughter drove from Florida to New Orleans to pick up her own daughter, then drove the both of them to Saugerties. "She's crazy," said my girlfriend. "All that driving."
"Maybe she likes to drive," I offered.
"Well yes, she does. Maybe it reminds her of the long trips we used to take, her way of bringing them back. She does recall those rather fondly."
And in recalling that conversation, I recalled all the long summer trips my family went on. My father used to go on many business trips. In the summer time, we would accompany him. Aberdeen Maryland. Macon Georgia. Jekyll Island Georgia. Tennessee. He would go about his business (inspecting ordnance) in the daytime and we would loll around the pool, watch color television (no, dear reader, we had black and white until 1981), and enjoy air conditioning and the ice machine. We would take walks after a restaurant dinner and enjoy a thick shake at Shoney's Big Boy. It was all quite novel.
But I remember the getting there mostly. No, I have no fond memories of departure. My father would typically want to leave around 4AM. We had to be packed the night before and he would pack the car as well, so that the only thing we did at 4AM was get in the car and roll. Once you were out in the open for a while, there were no radio stations to tune into, unless you like to listen to audio crackle. We would typically drive until 4PM, then stay the rest of the trip in a Holiday Inn or a Ramada Inn. The 4PM stop time was so that my father, who liked to swim, could have some pool time. My brother and I also liked pool time. My mother never did. She would change into her swim suit, which she hated, as it would expose her "pulkes" and loll in a lounge chair. Or sit by the side of the pool and splash her toes. When I later read "Portnoy's Complaint," I recognized her in Portnoy's mother.
But mostly, I reveled in the existential nature of the experience. At some point, Glenn and I didn't play together. I read throughout the length of the trip. I have no idea what he would do. I was consummed by my book. My mother would give me money so I could buy three or four paper backs, nice thick ones. Put a book in front of my nose and I have no complaints. I read "Jane Eyre" during one trip. Also "Wuthering Heights." In a car, on a ride, you can only be. There is no past, no present, no future. There are no yearnings, no wants. Especially because my mother would pack a cooler with sandwiches and fruit. She would cut up a cantalope so it resembled a banana--that way, we could hold it and eat it in the backseat. She would give us bunches of green grapes and peaches. We would stop at the side of the road at some point and eat sandwiches she had packed. There were no wants which could no be provided for in her cooler. Going to the bathroom was more problematic--my father was a demon for making time, and did not want to pull off the road. Besides, at that time, I don't think there were facilities better than gas stations, which never had a reputation.
I remember feeling safe. My father was a good driver and liked to drive. Our cars were clean and safe, no like the rolling closets so many men maintain these days. My father did not use his car for storage. He did not treat his car like a garbage can. Nor did he allow us to do so. We put our wrappers in a bag, which was then put into a garbage container later on. He vacuumed the interiior regularly. It didn't seem there was anything he couldn't handle, once Glenn and I outgrew the bickering in the back of the car stage. Then, like every father known since time began, he would start to roar that if we didn't quite our quarreling, he would turn the car around and go back. A meaningless threat. At 4AM, I would have liked to gone back home and enjoy my warm bed.
Highways were different. Once you got into the Southern part of the US, there were fewer highways. One had to go on roads--often unpaved and rutty. You saw falling down shacks and half-naked children, gawping at us as we drove by them in one of my father's succession of Pontiacs.
My father's love of driving went through me like a grease in an intestine. I never enjoyed the experience. Part of it was driver's ed . I was the only one in my class who at age 17 had never put a car into gear and driven it on and off the driveway. It was a group class and the teacher was impatient and sarcastic. Still, he was an angel compared to my father, short-tempered Sam. I remember once we were on the highway and he wanted me to pass a truck that was in front of me by changing lanes and speeding past. I didn't want to. I didn't mind being behind the truck. I was more scared of changing lanes, speeding past the truck,, and changing lanes again. My father started to yell and then grabbed the wheel. I started crying. I wondered even then if he had a passive death wish.
We lived past that and I received my driver's license in due time. I never enjoyed driving. Changing lanes, highways, parallel parking--all a source of anxiety. Interestingly enough, when alone, I sped like Satan was my co-pilot. The needle easily went past 100mph. I was never pulled over by the police. I enjoyed the sensation of having to hold the steering wheel steady in both hands. I enjoyed the sense of intense focus. Which is different than feeling safe, like I usually did with my father, when he drove. I never felt I was up to snuff. Once, it was snowing when I was coming home from flute lessons. I couldn't figure out what to do. I was skidding so badly that the car turned completely around and I could see the on-coming traffic. I don't know how I managed to pull out and return. And this is rather a routine problem.
Safe. I felt safe when Sam drove. He may have had a mercurial temper,. He may have had poverty of speech. But when it came to procedural skills, he could drive. And I have never quite experience the like betide.