There is another life.
There is a truth beneath this truth. All we need to do is rip off the bandage.
“I was thinking we should do something different this year,” I said. “I really should see those kids.”
“What kids?” said Deb.
“My nieces and nephews,” I said.
“You see them all the time,” she said.
“No,” I said. “My brother’s and sister’s kids. I mean, they’re grown up now. When’s the next time they’ll all be together?”
“So you want to go to Vermont for Thanksgiving. That’s what you’re saying.”
“Not just me. Why don’t we all go?”
“But we’re going to Dawns.”
“Let’s go to Vermont.”
“You tell Dawn,” she said.
“Why? You afraid?”
“She’ll flip out if I tell her,” she said. “She won’t flip out if you tell her. You tell her.”
Every Thanksgiving we spend with the Murrays. For the past twenty-five years. Every Thanksgiving. We drive to Minneapolis, to Deb’s brother’s bar. We drive to Chicago, to Deb’s other brother’s house. Or we drive to Indianapolis, to Deb’s sister’s house. I love Deb’s family. But there is another life. We can choose it. It’s right beneath the surface of this one. We can do something different.
Springsteen is always singing songs about the highway. Kerouac was born to be on the road. Old folks are always buying RVs — their last chance to be free. We’re all so free when we’re on the road. The road leads to another road. And to another road. We could go anywhere in the Americas. We’re electrical impulses coursing along nerve pathways. To the toes. To the hands. To the head. We’re so free. Aren’t we?
I love the fact that we don’t have any car payment. That’s freeing too. The Honda Odyssey has two hundred and twenty thousand miles on it. Still running strong. Until the Tuesday before the big Thursday.
“The key won’t go in,” said Deb.
“What do you mean the key won’t go in?”
“The key won’t go in! What do you mean what do I mean?! Where are you? Can you pick me up?”
The old Odyssey needed a new ignition cylinder. That was over five hundred. And Honda Billion couldn’t do it before Thanksgiving. I took the philosophical route: “Well,” I said, calmly, “fuck it. We don’t have to go. Let’s just stay home.”
Deb was pouting.
“Or, I said, we can rent a car. How much to rent a car. With unlimited miles?”
After some searching, Deb determined that it would cost about five hundred.
“So,” I said. “Five for the repair. Five for the car. Another…what. Five? For the gas and hotel rooms?”
“And the meals,” said Deb.
“And the meals. So, maybe six of seven? So that’s seventeen hundred dollars. Fuck it. Let’s just…buy a turkey and…”
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we spent forty thousand dollars on a new Honda Odyssey. I knew it was real when we were choosing between the silver one or the black one. Light rain falling. The sun having already set. The following day the day of our planned departure. We could do this. We could drive this car home right now. We could have a new car. We could drive to Vermont tomorrow morning. Wake up at five. When does the Dunkin’ Donuts open? Five. We could get a cup of coffee for the road and just…go. We could go. Through Chicago by nine. Wouldn’t that be freeing? To just go?
We chose the sixty month option. At around six hundred a month. Plus that extra warrantee. 120,000 miles and that includes everything, which, by the way, the factory warrantee does not. Plus there was a thing, for just a few thousand dollars, you could get where they spray your car with some protective sealant or whatever and if you get any dents, any dents at all, they fix them for free. And so we went for that too because they could extend the loan for an extra six months and up the interest rate to 2.9 and still the payment wouldn’t change all that much. All in all, for only 40,000 dollars, six hundred a month, for 66 months, 666, we could be free.
On Tuesday night, Deb googled weather. They can tell you what the weather will be during your trip. Mile by mile. Deb pointed to the screen.
“No rain,” she said, pointing. “Except near Chicago. Other than that, just clouds. Perfect for driving.”
The windshield wipers worked pretty well. I never shut them off all the way from Iowa to Vermont. They did develop a streak right in my eye-line, so I had to sit funny to see the cars in front of me. But I figured it was just something caught under the blade. When I stopped for gas or to shit, I could fix it. But I always forgot. Who can remember something like that after you fill the tank or flush the toilet?
Anyway, this was our rebellion. This was our freedom. To drive twelve hundred miles from Iowa to Vermont. And then to Portland, Maine. And then back to Iowa again. Along with everyone else. Who wait in line at the Indiana rest stop at Starbucks.
What was the big fucking holdup? Could it have to do with the 12-year-old children employed at the Route 80 service plaza Starbucks on the Sunday after Thanksgiving? Could it be that Indiana has closed all it’s service plazas except this one, so everyone needs to swarm around this one-and-only honeycomb for coffee and, again, shitting out the Big Mack you ate four hours previous? I’m sorry, but this is the way it is.
Our return trip convinces me without a doubt that there are too many of us. People, I mean. We have fucked too much. Deb and I have single-handedly doubled the population of our family, Deb giving birth to four children to take our places when we’re gone. How much more corn could we grow? With all the rivers overflowing with chemicals and pig shit? How many more cars could we drive? There aren’t enough roads for them all. Obviously. Look at the line for the service plaza — it backs up to the offramp. At least there are enough twelve-year-olds to make our coffee. Imagine the prairie family, homesteaders only a hundred and fifty years ago, deciding to take Bessie and Old Jake and the conestoga wagon across the Big River and then over that abundant hump of land known as America so they could have a meal and a few drinks with “those kids we never get to see. Because, they’re growing up. Right? When will we ever get to see them all together that way again?”
But the new car gets good milage. For a gigantic minivan. Apparently, it drops pistons out of the race if you don’t need them. So a six-cylinder becomes a five-cylinder or a four-cylinder if needs be. And it can also go into all-wheel drive, which, somehow, is different from four-wheel drive. And better somehow. And you don’t need to feed the car. And it goes ninety and you can’t even tell. Of course, it was bumper to bumper the whole way back to Iowa and then, after dark, the heavens opened once again, this time in a biblical fashion, from Toledo onward. We didn’t google it. Because, what the fuck would we have done differently? Circled the wagons and try to light a fire in the rain and pray for no Indian attack?
The long car trip. Which we paid so much for. The long car trip. With our healthy snacks of apples and carrots and spring water which inevitably give over to Cooler Ranch Doritos and beef jerky and curly fries. And all those audiobooks we checked out, imagining such a long exhalation after holding our breaths for so long, going through those daily ablutions of work and work and work. To listen to literature as the miles lapped past our side windows. So relaxing. With our hot cups of coffee. Such an extravagance. And each new state we entered, we’d do our little celebratory fist pump. Whoop whoop whoop! Each a mark of progress. Distinction. Yes. We have made it to Illinois. Yes. Just one more state. And then we will have accomplished the great feat, after five days of torture, of arriving at the same place we started from. Yes. Sitting completely still for five days. With only the slightest movement of the hands and feet. To steer and brake. To push the cruise set button. To change the speed of the wiper blades.
And how nice it was to gain that hour. So that, when we arrived home again, everything already seeming smaller and smelling slightly strange to us, we were in time to watch the new episode of Poldark. A show about a British soldier who had returned from the revolutionary war in America to a dead father and a failed mine and a girlfriend who had jilted him for his cousin. But it was nice for him, at least, to be home again. I decided to have a little glass of cognac, which I have recently gained a taste for. How nice to drink my fancy drink and watch someone suffer so. To watch someone live a life I will never live. Because Poldark’s life isn’t my life.