Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Eight Hours on Saturday Night

One hour after Shabbat ended, I sat behind the wheel of our Honda with Middle Babe, Little Babe and our Pomeranians Alfie and Nala, negotiating where we would pick up our salads for the impending trip to Towson, Maryland, home of my daughter’s college.

It was the Saturday night of the Thanksgiving weekend and the plan was to start the trip before the traveling madness set in, spend a day in the charming town of Hampden, do some local Target shopping, settle my daughter in her dorm and get on the road sometime in the range of 5 pm on Sunday afternoon.

At 6 pm on Saturday night, I didn't have food on my mind but Middle Babe made the case that instead of eating Cinnabons and guzzling Starbucks from the endless rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike, we could enjoy decent dinners. Though I was eager to hit the road, I had to admit that her suggestion made sense and relented. Thus did our first stop on the Bungalow Family Saturday Night Road Trip become the new Whole Foods outpost on Columbus Avenue.

When I say that I sat behind the wheel of our Honda, what I really mean is that just before our road trip commenced, I was rendered temporarily immobile due to a combination of post traumatic stress and pre-trip stress. The previous fifteen minutes had been a scene out of a dysfunctional family drama -- or comedy -- with a Marx Brothers-like failed first attempt to leave the apartment en masse that ended in Middle Babe's lava lamp flying out of my arms and crashing to bits in our hallway while our pooches fled in terror and red viscous matter spread all over the floor.

Sitting in my car -- sans lava lamp - daughter texting frantically on her BlackBerry, son plugged into his iPod, I contemplated the three hour journey ahead, wondering if I had lost my mind completely. Though I didn't know it at the time, the broken lava lamp was a premonition.

Eight hours later, when we finally pulled into the driveway of the Sheraton North Baltimore after a hideous crawl down I95, due to an earlier accident in Delaware, I felt certifiably insane, not to mention homicidal (though I shouldn't really use that word in this context because last year, a father of two from Long Island killed his wife and daughters in this very hotel. The room was on the 10th floor. We made a point of requesting any floor but). For about $60, I could have put Middle Babe on an Amtrak back to Baltimore and gone out dancing instead of staring at the ironic license plate of the car in front of me – Bashert – wondering if it was all a cruel joke.

And yet.

Here’s the takeaway from our Saturday evening adventure. For eight straight hours, I was locked inside an increasingly messy vehicle with two of the people I love the most in the world…and our adorable, uncomplaining pups. For eight straight hours, we listened to rock count downs, local news and Spanish music, played Elton John and The Talking Heads, told family stories and talked, talked, talked.

Middle Babe and I talked about relationships and friends and dreams and disappointments. We talked about food and our bodies, her ambitions and her studies. She explained just why she hated the movie A Serious Man, which I took her and Little Babe to on the night of Thanksgiving. We talked about Judaism and God. I was overcome with pride in her intelligence and integrity.

In the back seat, Little Babe dozed on and off, listening to his music, interjecting a comment here and there, providing entertainment and comic relief. Every now and then, he joined the conversation. Middle Babe responded to him, sounding like a sister, a mother, a friend.

Sometimes we vented about the horrible waste of our Saturday night, laughed ruefully at our foolishly optimistic plan to crawl into bed at the Sheraton around 10 pm and watch a scary movie together, or maybe SNL. Despite our Whole Foods salads, we ended up buying Cinnabons and Starbucks, finding excuses to pull off the road at the various rest stops in the vain hope that the traffic would ease once we inched our way back onto the highway.

The takeaway from our eight hour traffic jam is that we were together. Is that our eight hour drive became an awful yet awesome adventure, a moment in our shared history and that one day, when we looked back at this night, we would remember it as magic.

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