Like many Americans, Doug and I recently decided it was time to slingshot ourselves out of the near-to-home orbit we’ve kept to for the past year and a half. Breaking away was not irrelevant, but mostly we wanted to check in with distant family members. I needed to hug my Mom, to lay eyes on my brother and brother-in-law without the interventions of technology. With all parties fully vaccinated and a relative lull in virus activity at either end of our planned itinerary, we hit the road, aiming for New Jersey and New York.
This wasn’t a resort vacation getaway or an international trip to a bucket list destination. The road trip we embarked on was the sort we might have taken as college students, decades ago: too many miles in too few days. Getting there, we drove fast, for long hours. Back East, we hugged, ate, drank, laughed, talked. Then we got back in the car and retraced the same hard-driving, coldly efficient route home.
I had anticipated feeling some regret about our decision to drive. The speed of flying makes it the easy default, even with the associated hassles. I worried I would feel like I’d cheated myself of time with loved ones, that the grip of driving would leave us more stressed and wrung out at the end than we were when we left.
The drive was long, and we arrived home weary, no question. Re-entry into regular life has been a scramble, trying to catch up and pick up the thread of projects dropped. But that’s how it is with any vacation. Last year we tried taking a week “off” at home, and even without any traveling at all, I don’t recall emerging particularly refreshed.
What I miscalculated about our recent journey was how much I would value those days in the car with Doug. Turns out I wasn’t cheated out of time with loved ones after all: in fact, it felt like I had two trips, one taken up with visiting distant relatives and the other an old-style road trip with my honey.
It might not have been the ultimate in quality time together, but in the ongoing uncertainty of pandemic life, being cocooned together in the car was a peculiar kind of comfort. There were no chores, no phone calls, no one else to answer to, no one else’s outrage to contend with. We talked, we listened to music, we watched the panorama beyond the windows in its slo-mo shift from foothills to plains to densely wooded roadsides and then back again, the backdrop punctuated by the odd cityscape and variations on those all-American landscape features, the truck stop and the strip mall. This trip, perhaps more than any other vacation we’ve taken in years, was a reminder that one of the reasons we like to travel is that we spend time together doing it.