Enjoying the Unbearable* (Not Truly Unbearable)
Last week, as we made some of our first forays outside our home with the pandemic in retreat, we traveled to northern Wisconsin for a gathering of my wife’s family. (Technically, people from Wisconsin would call the location central, rather than northern, but after eight hours of driving, those people can bite me.)
We had to adjust this trip to accommodate a greater need to travel to New York that same weekend to help out our daughter. So we arrived in northern Wisconsin on Friday, attended the gathering on Saturday, and left that same night to go back to Michigan. We arrived at four o’clock in the morning. (I don’t recommend driving after midnight, but I don’t always follow my own good advice.)
I got about five hours sleep, did a few chores around the house, then departed (alone) for New York. Twelve hours later, I parked the car in Brooklyn. I spent the night at my daughter’s apartment, helped her pack in the morning, and picked up some precious cargo that couldn’t accompany her on a business trip (her dog, Bark). At noon, I departed with Bark to return to Michigan, arriving at midnight.
When I explained the scenario to our son, he offered sympathy for the difficult task I’d undertaken.
“I don’t mind the driving,” I said. “I don’t love it, but I don’t mind.”
He shook his head. “You’ve found a way to enjoy the unbearable.”
Unbearable is a bit dramatic. I’m driving a modern car on reasonably decent roads. The weather was also decent; I drove through rain in the mountains of Pennsylvania, which was unnerving, but not frightening like last year’s trip in winter.
It’s certainly on the ridiculous side, but parenting is about helping your kids while maintaining family. Those challenging, back-to-back cross-country rides were tough, but I enjoyed them. I’ve certainly done some dumb things in my youth I don’t want to repeat.
A dumb thing I did driving cross-country
I drove a ten-year old Ford LTD in the late 80s and made the drive from Ann Arbor to Philadelphia to see my girlfriend at the time. That old Ford was like one of the ocean liners of the road: big, heavy and soft suspension. Rolling over bumps rocked the boat for several seconds. They weren’t know for agility or handling.
I decided to add fog lights to that car from a kit I bought at an auto parts store. It seemed simple enough, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Still, I screwed the switch onto the dashboard and they actually worked.
Pretty cool, but…
During that drive across Pennsylvania, I took Interstate 80, as I did for this most recent trip and the one last winter. The mountains are still the same, and the trucks still chase you down the slopes at crazy speeds. I happened to be in the middle of those mountains at night when some fog rolled in.
What I like to do in heavy fog is follow the car in front of me and hope that they don’t drive off the mountain. At this particular moment, I was all alone. There were no guiding lights to follow.
Fog? No problem
I hit the switch for the fog lights. Instead of more light, I got less. My headlights went dark. Flipping the switch — all the switches! — didn’t help. I was alone, driving seventy-five miles an hour, in the dark in a fog bank on a mountain.
Terror ensued as I continued to flip the switch. I braked hard and tried to find the shoulder, worried a truck would crest the hill behind me and smash me off the mountain.
With the car at rest, I jiggled wires under the dash and the lights returned. But for the rest of the trip, they would turn off if I hit a bump or took a turn to hard, and my left hand was back under the dash trying to work yet another miracle.
Me thinking I could do something like that to an old car without any training in car stuff was beyond ignorant.
Having survived something so ridiculously dumb, making a similar trip in good weather with a reliable car is just a Sunday drive in the country for me.