Are we there yet?

When I was a young girl, my father liked to pack us all into the station wagon for long road trips in the summer. We didn’t have iPods, or portable dvd players, or cell phones; we didn’t even have air conditioning, which meant my father liked to hit the road at 4 a.m., to beat the heat of the day and the LA traffic. I remember this was part of the excitement: rising in the dark and stumbling in our pajamas out to the car, still clutching our pillows and blankets and stuffed teddies. My two brothers and I crawled into the way back and set up our nomadic bedroom, snuggling back down as the car pulled out of the driveway in reverse.

“Goodbye house,” my mother whispered softly.

“Goodbye house,” I echoed back hoarsely, then lay on back and watched as the sky revolved outside the long windows. I imagined our house waving back until we turned the corner out of sight. Sometimes I’d be lulled back to sleep, but often I liked to lie there half awake instead, trying to determine where we were just by timing the turns or watching for familiar billboards and signs.

It was a lovely time of day to be awake. And a lovely place in which to be awake: between my two brothers who were pretty nice when sleeping; in the care of my parents, who murmured  together in the front seat; in our familiar car, so solid, moving us inexorably forward. My father, an engineer, had packed everything just so; everything had its place, including me.

I could hear the thermos lid being unscrewed, smelled the sharp scent of Folgers as it poured into a cup. I heard the AM radio voices: announcers who were all storytellers and invited you to be part of the story as well.

In a few days I’ll be flying from Bellingham to Phoenix to meet up with my parents at their retirement home, and the next day we’ll hit the road together to drive 8 hours to my little brother’s house in Laguna Beach. We’ll pack the car with snacks and water and podcasts. We’ll have air conditioning, so we most likely won’t leave at 4 a.m. I’ll drive part of the way, but not enough to take this pleasure away from my father who, at 81, still loves to drive. I’ll love being with them this way: together in a time out of time, keeping each other safe.

In this season of vacations and road trips, it’s a great time to remember traveling as a child. Write for 15 minutes about an early childhood memory of a road trip. Allow the sensory details to emerge: the smells, the sounds. Try to evoke your child’s frame of mind: what did that child think about; how did that child feel? Do these feeling arise in road trips you take in the present?

Happy beginning of summer, my friends. Here, in the northwest, we’re experiencing our annual “Juneuary,” as we call these cold gray days, but I know these will pass for sunnier days ahead.

With gratitude,



7 thoughts on “Are we there yet?

  1. Great to read this entry to complement the reading of your wonderful book which I received in the mail this past week.

  2. Indeed. I can recall how I too, use to ask my father how long it will be before arriving at our destination. Though once we arrived, how fantastic it was. To explore new terrains, to savor
    every moment of our vacation. A time never forgotten

  3. My father was one of those drivers who passed every car on the road. If the road was winding, he’d haunt the back left bumper of the vehicle in front of us, waiting to be able to see a clear stretch far enough ahead in the oncoming lane to make it. (There might have been a little guesswork involved.) On the straightaway he’d zoom up to and zip around the next car, sometimes three or four cars in a row if there was a laggard holding up the line and no one in front of us was impatient (or foolhardy) enough to chance it. I felt like I was his second, alert and calculating distances, watching for the next opportunity to pass.
    Our most frequent trips were between Altadena, where we lived, and Escondido, where my aunts and uncles and cousins inhabited the rural acres, by then divided among Mom’s sisters, where my grandfather farmed as they grew up. There would be fried chicken at Aunt Helen’s table, and sometimes rabbit, and corn on the cob in season. And Hide and Seek in the hay barn, Capture the Flag in a plowed field, Beckons Wanted all over the place.
    Some of this drive was on old Route 66, which we picked up on Foothill Boulevard for a while before heading south through fields of the grapevines of the Virginia Dare winery, and following the former racetrack route that had been converted to a circular street in Corona.
    The road through Temescal Canyon between Corona and Elsinore was the most exciting because of all the curves. But I usually threw up before that. (I usually threw up there too.) For me, vomiting was the second main feature of car travel. The first was my father’s exciting driving, the adventure of continually trying to be at the front of the line. But the two-and-a-half hour trip was also measured in stops along the side of the road, the sensation of saliva warming in my mouth and sounding the alarm, Dad hitting the brakes and pulling over, raising a cloud of dust, and Mom following my mad dash out of the car to cradle my forehead as I heaved, and then wiping my mouth with a hankie. Because of this talent of mine, I had the shotgun seat, between Mom and the front passenger door of the old Buick. My younger brothers didn’t have a chance.
    About the time I grew up and went off to college, my disability ended. But I have the distinct memory from somewhere in my early teen years of leaning over the railing of my Aunt Pearl’s house and exulting, “A hundred and twenty-five miles and I only threw up twice!”

    • So many wonderful details in your description, Harley–love the Hide & Seek in the hay loft–you brought back memories of visiting my cousins’ farm in Minnesota in the summer–thanks! Holly

  4. Ah yes, such an essential part of any road trip: carsickness! THanks for the evocative description of your dad “haunting” the bumpers of the cars in front–breathtaking.