The long and open road
There are two types of people in the world: those who make stops during road trips, savoring the journey, and those trying to set land speed records.
I fall into the latter category, I’m afraid. Despite my best efforts to relax, I’m all about the estimated arrival time. Comfort breaks are non-negotiable, of course; using the facilities and grabbing a quick, greasy sack lunch just go with the territory. But detouring to see a roadside curiosity, stop at a farm stand or eat at a sit-down restaurant — especially one not in view of the exit ramp? Not so much.
Ever the yin to my yang, my husband falls on the other side of the fence. Spencer is all about maximizing the experience, finding cute cafes and sights to explore as we head to New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.
Of course, everything is different with a baby.
Our recent drive to North Carolina was Oliver’s longest trip to date. We went to see family outside Gettysburg, Pa., last fall, but that was a couple hours — and this was almost five, an interminable stretch for a toddler. Ollie did sleep on both legs of the journey, which made it less miserable for all of us . . . but we still paused frequently for food and stretching of the ol’ legs. I tried to just go with the flow. If parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that I really need to chill out. I’ve shared my calendar-keeping and list-making with you many times, and that has eased since Oliver’s birth. But at my core? I’m still a record-keeper, and it’s hard for me to face a day without a game plan. I want to schedule what I’m doing and when, printing out maps and locating landmarks and having a course of action. Logistics calm me down.
Our Outer Banks cruise was good practice for the coming storm: an eight-hour trek to Western New York. The Johnsons are convening on Chautauqua Lake in July, and we’ll be driving up so Oliver and I can meet the extended family — many for the first time.
Six years of dating, nearly three of marriage, and there are still family members I haven’t met. In our modern world, I do feel like I “know” many of them already — through Facebook. Once I began popping up in photos with their cousin, the friend requests filtered in. I accepted them all, eager to be embraced by my boyfriend’s tight-knit crew; the Johnsons are a loving family who cast a wide net, drawing in everyone without judgment. That was a relief.
I always look forward to our visits in New York. Life moves slower there, far from the hurried pace of suburban life. There are no commuters weaving in 301 traffic, no back-ups to pile into the drive-through line at Starbucks. There is no Starbucks: just a Tim Hortons on every corner, a northern chain where neighbors still sit a spell over doughnuts and coffee. A place where my Maryland accent is often misinterpreted by smiling clerks.
Feeling like a sweet Southern flower is just one of many reasons I enjoy our trips up to the Buffalo area. True to form, Spencer often convinces me to stop at one of the many “junk shops” in one-stoplight towns through Pennsylvania. Nothing prompts squealing brakes faster than a good flea market.
We find them — in the middle of nowhere, it seems — because my husband treats turnpikes like battlegrounds. If a winding back road can get us where we need to go, we stay off the highway. Best to enjoy the scenery, breathe the wild air and whatnot. This used to make me crazy. As co-pilot on our drives, I’m always clutching the GPS. “Google says to take this exit,” I’ll advise, sucking in a breath as Spencer whizzes right past it. We ignore the clipped voice of our navigator telling us to “make a U-turn,” plunging into the great unknown as he follows signs for another route. “C’mon. That would have saved us 10 minutes!”
With a baby howling in the back, we might need those 10 minutes. Ten minutes to find a place to stop for a feeding; 10 minutes to pull off for a diaper change; 10 minutes to track down a chain restaurant so we can feed ourselves after feeding Oliver, the constant challenge.
After the success of our Outer Banks drive, though, I’m feeling less anxious about New York. I’ve resigned myself to stopping when necessary — even frequently — and not worrying about how long the journey takes.
As long as we also brake for coffee.
Some things are nonnegotiable.