Following Christmas, Barbara and I load the van in preparation for our annual trip to Florida. We’re snowbirds, and spend four months there. The process of leave-taking—packing, loading, unloading and reloading, attempting to remember what was left behind last year—involves many animated discussions. Largely because my memory is no longer fully reliable, these exchanges can sometimes get heated. Our solution is to go on packing in silence, knowing there will be ample time in the days and weeks to come for payback related to that favorite slotted spoon or extra camera memory card now spending the winter back in Michigan.
But many hours later than planned, we at last coax our dog Chelsea to hop in, slide shut the van's panel door, and take off. We’ve made this trip once or more times a year since 2001. As we move south, we watch for signs of milder weather. We eat junk food (Chelsea prefers McDonald’s), stay in pet-friendly motels, and drink lots of coffee and little shot bottles full of B vitamins.
By now, the journey is marked by familiar points of interest. The next several posts take their inspiration—if that’s the word for it—from our time on the road. Collectively, they make up a kind of scrapbook of Americana, at least that part of it exposed on I-75.
--I Dozed off.
--You did, that’s good. That’s the point of reclining seats.
--God, I fell so soundly asleep. I was back in the union. We were getting a mailing out for the next election.
--You loved the place.
--Yes, but please don’t start in about how I no longer have a sense of purpose.
--It was a mistake. I should never have retired.
--Honey, you stayed too long as it was. If it hadn’t been for the penalty for leaving before thirty-and-out, I would have pressured you to quit earlier. I should have anyway, but we needed the money.
--I should’ve stayed on.
--I just couldn’t take the commute anymore.
--Maybe that’s why you dozed off just now. Here you are, back on I-75. The same road you had to take every morning. In the last couple years you hated it. The lunatic morning drivers, everyone blabbing on phones while doing their makeup. “See? I can drive with no hands.” Men shaving. Hot numbers dancing in their seats at seventy miles an hour at seven-thirty in the morning.
--It did get to me, I have to say.
--At the end, sometimes I had to drive you, remember?
--No, but I knew from those times how awful it must be. The pressure.
--You never knew, you couldn’t know. You drove three miles each way on your commute. Never in rush hour.
--And always on surface roads, not the expressway.
--Exactly. So please don’t say you “know” what it was like for me.
--All right. But I know you resented how easy I had it.
--No, not really. But I couldn’t help knowing it. Please, honey, don’t follow so close. Do we have to be in the left lane all the time?
--Any lane you want. I just don’t like traveling behind tankers.
--Tell me about it.
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