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‘Your everlasting summer. You can see it fading fast’

Half the battle is just getting out of the house and on the road. Whenever we travel, we all understand that if we need to leave at 8 a.m., we will pretend that we really have to leave at 7 a.m. so that we can actually lave by 8:45 a.m. 

We set the alarm clock an hour earlier than any sane person would deem necessary, more than enough time to pack the car, eat a nutritious breakfast, run through the checklist of things that need to be turned on and things that need to be turned off, water the plants, leave a note for the house sitter so excruciatingly detailed that it resembles a manuscript, and say ‘goodbyes’ to our pets in a fashion that is so cute and so urgent that they seem confused, and probably alarmed, at what is unfolding here in front of them.

“Does anybody need to pee?” I say as members of the family file by clutching their paperbacks and headphones. “I swear if anyone asks me to stop to pee before we get to Old Fort, I’m going to pull my hair out.”

“Too late for that,” my son Jack says.

“Then I’ll pull yours out,” I say. “Get back in there and pee right now. All of you, march back into that house and pee, even if you think you don’t need to. And grab some breakfast bars. We are not — and I repeat NOT — stopping for at least two or three hours.”

I might as well admit that I hate stopping when we travel. Yes, I see you reaching into your basket of clichés — “stop and smell the roses”; “it’s about the journey, not the destination”; “be present in every moment” — but you have not traveled in close quarters with these people, these people who I love more than the heights my soul can reach yada yada yada, but who nevertheless are specialists in making me utterly crazy when we spend somewhere between four to 14 hours confined in a space that is no bigger than the average elevator.

Would you want to spend eight to 10 hours with the same three people in such close quarters? Now imagine that one of those people spent two consecutive hours singing songs from Disney movies. Imagine another one periodically screaming epithets at his phone, profoundly angered by some injustice inflicted on him by one of his apps. Imagine the third person, the one you turn to for protection (“shelter from the storm”) against the other two, curled up in one corner of the elevator in a fetal position, her book fanned out in her lap like some exotic pet made from paper. The elevator is equipped with a stereo, but when you turn on Steely Dan or John Coltrane, your three follow travelers spring to life in one motion, like synchronized swimmers, showering you with complaints — and more Disney lyrics.

“Can you turn that down? This music is stressing me out!”

“Can you see that I am trying to sleep over here?”

“When a mermaid comes to Ursula, she always gets her man!”

Even though I am bored out of my gourd, at least we are making good time. It has been nearly an hour, and nobody has asked to…

“Oh good, there’s an exit. I need to pee.”

“You absolutely do not. You could have gone on sleeping like that for another three hours at least.”

“Well now I’m awake. And now I need to pee.”

“Your bladder is the size of a walnut. No, a Grape-nut. Can’t you just go back to sleep?”

“Yes, right after I pee.”

“Dad, can we go through Taco Bell?”

“No, Jack!” His sister turns on him, as if he’d just suggested that we move to Saudi Arabia. “It is MY turn to pick and I pick Chick-fil-A.”

“It’s not even 9:30 yet,” I say, attempting to restore order. “Eat a breakfast bar.”

“We forgot to bring them. How about some Gummy Worms?”

We pull into the service station and everybody but me piles out. No need to top off the tank — the needle isn’t even down to three-quarters yet. I get out to see if the bungee cords are holding firm and the tires all look like they are inflated to regulation pressure. An older couple in matching T-shirts comes out of the store holding matching cups of coffee, taking note of our packed car.

“Where y’all headed?” the man asks.

“Edisto Beach,” I say.

“Whew, you got a ways to go,” he said.

“You don’t know the half of it.”

I figure conservatively that our pit stop should take somewhere between six to eight minutes, and that’s allowing for moderate traffic in the women’s restroom and a couple of people in front of them at the register. I can envision my daughter weighing the merits of various packs of gummy things, my son working his mom like a carnival barker for a slushy and maybe a hot dog. At 12 minutes, I resolve to stop counting, smell the damn roses, turn on some Steely Dan, and lean the seat back.

“But you wouldn’t know a diamond

If you held it in your hand.”

Just when I’m about to reel in the years, the doors are yanked open on all sides all at once. More groans issue inside, contaminating my Steely Dan cocoon.

“Can you turn on some good music at least?” says my daughter, who wouldn’t know a good song if she held it her hand.

“Or how about some quiet? I’d like to read a while, I think.”

My son pays no attention. He is already finding another game on his phone, fishing around for the charger with one hand and holding his slushy with the other.

I merge back onto I-40 East. With any luck, we might get near Columbia before stopping for lunch. To humor myself, I start forming words out of the signs.

“Morganton.” Grant. Torn. Rant…

“Honey, I think I left my purse back at that convenience store. I think there’s an exit just a little ways up. You love me, right?”

Moat. Gnat. Ram. Art. Smell the roses, smell the roses. It’s all about the journey.

“Your everlasting summer,

You can see it fading fast.

So you grab a piece of something

That you think is gonna last.”

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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