Hitting the road, post-lockdown

After 18 months of lockdown, last week we took our first family road trip in almost two years.

I was one of those people who didn’t mind so much being trapped inside during the pandemic. I loved having my family around me, and I enjoyed not having to drive places. I read lots of books. I wrote a lot. Teaching? Boot up the computer. Get-togethers and meetings? The same. I suddenly found myself in the odd position of being on time to things.

But travel is a big deal for me, and I was missing it. We were set to go on a trip to Disneyland the week that the Bay Area (and the amusement park) shut down in March 2020. And while I could have found a way to travel during lockdown, we chose to follow the fairly strict recommendations of my county.

With long Spotify playlists and bags full of not-too-healthy snacks, all of us vaccinated people set out for Seattle to visit my oldest son and his wife, whom we hadn’t seen in two years. This time, we had a little dog with us, which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be and more entertaining. There are lots of pet-friendly hotels! And at least one coffee shop.

The pup, with booties to protect nice, hardwood floors

In our case, months of deprivation led to appreciation. I looked on things with fresh eyes—the northern Central Valley with its fields of sunflowers and almond trees wasn’t just a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else; it looked beautiful to me. Oregon’s rivers seemed so exotic—we don’t have legit rivers in the Bay Area. And the Seattle area, with its ferry boats and miles of deep, green forests was stunning. We took a ferry boat over to Bainbridge Island to visit a friend and loved that we could drive onto a boat and get off and drive wherever we wanted on the other side.

Oregon’s Willamette River, looking very exotic to my Bay Area eyes
Sunflower farms in the northern Central Valley.

But the best thing? Hugs. We could hug each other. We could talk and see each others’ expressions without masks–and not through a video screen. Zoom kept us from complete isolation, but we were made to see, hear, feel and connect with each other in person. Nothing substitutes for that, long term.

My husband and I are big fans of British comedy. On a show called That Mitchell and Webb Look, there’s a repeating skit called “After the Event,” in which contestants play a game show after a fictional apocalyptic event has decimated their society. It’s obvious that this event has maimed and deeply affected the contestants. The audience is warned to “REMAIN INDOORS” and not to think about “The Event.”  

Will COVID be our “Event”?  It’s possible that something worse will come along in our lifetime. But now, most of us have the ability to go outside, hug one another, see each other in the flesh, and travel (to most places). I’m going to enjoy it as long as I can.

Have you taken any big trips, post-lockdown? What was it like?

All together after almost two years

I have to clarify (because he will read this) that my husband Pete (third from the left) chose to fly to Seattle rather than do the road trip portion with us. And that’s okay! He loves both us and trips, but long car rides with very talkative people and loud singing along to playlists are not his thing.

The joy of the road

Road trips are in my blood. Nothing shakes me from my stupor and pries my fingers off my tired routines like a good, long road trip.

Last week my youngest and I drove to Austin, Texas, taking a southerly route through California’s Mojave Desert, across Arizona, New Mexico and a good chunk of rural Texas. We put a total of 3600 miles on my still fairly new Honda CRV. Also, quite a few dents, but I’ll get back to that.

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Wigwam Motel, on old Route 66, Holbrook, AZ.

Road trips are an honored institution in my family of origin. I remember being bundled into the car, in the flimsiest of car seats, for long drives to visit my grandparents in Nebraska. When my brother and sisters came along, my dad built two low benches, which he inserted over the folded down middle seat in our station wagon, so we could bundle up in blankets and sleep. Horribly dangerous and with no protective restraints, but we loved it. I remember rocketing down the interstates of the midwest, Colorado and Wyoming, my head thrust out the window like a dog, singing and feeling the wind in my face. When we didn’t stay with relatives, we’d stay in cheap motels off the beaten path, similar to the kind we saw along Route 66 on this trip: a tiny room, close quarters, but with full kitchens and usually a pool or kids playground.

A road trip that gives you that rare feeling that you’re getting somewhere. Your progress is clear, tangible. You can see it on the map (Now it’s Google maps for me). For my dad, the distances he drove were a mark of pride. He once drove us from Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area in one day (an 18 hour drive). I have no desire to equal his achievement, because while I love being on the road, I also love to get out of the car and see things. And I like to sleep.

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Arizona. It’s all orange.

Back to the dents in my car, which brings me to the unpredictability of road trips. Some of the best stories I remember from my childhood road trips are when things went horribly wrong. When we got lost. When the car broke down. When someone in the back seat started throwing up.

Last Monday, we’d just crossed the Texas border from New Mexico, when we saw the creepiest clouds I’d ever seen: dark grey, dense, and with appendages hanging down that I can only describe as fur-like. It began to rain, and suddenly it seemed like it was raining hammers. Hail pelted the car, growing in size until it resembled small golf balls. We were out in the middle of the great flat nowhere (or as my youngest calls it, BFN, Bum Fuck Nowhere), no shelter in sight. I drove, my hands rigid on the wheel, until we came to an overpass in Roscoe, Texas. Everyone crowding under the overpass got out and examined their damages. My windshield was split down the middle, and the hood and roof were covered with deep dimples like you’d see on a golf ball. I still can’t bring myself to look at it.

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My Honda’s self esteem took a hit.

We loved Austin. After we limped into town from that experience, we started having so much fun, we almost forgot the torrent we’d driven through. An auto glass repairer replaced our windshield quickly and we started enjoying the music and food that makes Austin so great. I even got some writing done.

It will be a while till we do another long road trip. Eight hour daily drives are exhausting, and my poor car needs time and body work to get back its sheen and mojo.

On our drive back, my youngest and I talked about the meaning of adventure—something we’d been looking for on the trip. If everything went precisely as you predicted on a trip, it wouldn’t be an adventure. We wouldn’t still be talking about it.

I’d say on this trip, we found the adventure we were looking for.