The trip is a thing happening between the parenthesis of ordinary life, and when I try to remember, all there is are a hundred snapshots. Moments like sunspots. Brief, fleeting glimpses. The scenery and weather changing before our very eyes. Memories happening in 15-minute intervals between the constant motion of the car, the hum of tires, the music playing, chasing the sun West.
Before we left, we spend one final day packing. It was a day that felt like forever. It was a day of saying goodbye for the last time. Hugs among half-filled boxes and packing paper. Returning borrowed dishes, pawning off plants, and arranging boxes into the space-saving geometry of things stacked 12 feet high inside the U-Pack container that will move across the country with us, but on its own alternate route. It was a day that lasted until midnight., till the point of sore feet and stupid-humor, as we filled the final boxes and tossed the remnants of things that live in the secret, shoved places of a house. The contents of junk drawers. The objects stuffed into the cabinet above the refrigerator where no one ever goes. Two dozen candle stubs. A large plastic tupperware full of gin and bourbon and tequila we inherited with our second ever rental and have carted from house to house without ever using it, for god knows why. The box of two thousand wooden popsicle sticks. On and on.
The next morning we left from the in-laws over muddy roads, waving goodbye, tears fresh on our cheeks. The rest is happening. Now. In a blur.
This is some kind of record.
Day 1: Burlington VT to Buffalo NY
A stop at the Vergennes Laundry for chocolate croissants and espresso, the owners pressing a bag of gingerbread cookies and torrone into our hands as we left. Crossing the bridge across Lake Champlain. A goodbye of sorts, gulls circling overhead, and from the backseat the thrilled narration: “We’re on a bridge! We’re crossing a bridge.” All trip, Sprout has been in love with the bridges, of which there have been many.
In the Adirondacks the trees shifted from maples to birches and poplars. More pines. Clear streams filled with snowmelt. Trailers, with yards filled with the stuff that other people have garages for. Towns made of almost nothing: five blocks. A library in a low-slung cement building painted blue.
Because we packed late, we left without the lunch supplies we’d intended to bring and stopped too near the point of hunger at the first place in the next hole-in-the-wall no where town. In we trooped, the four of us. Exactly the kind of place you’d expect: paraphernalia on the wall from just about everything. Old bar jokes. Postcards. T-shirts. Newspaper clippings. Three other tables were occupied. Almost no one talked. There was no music. We placed our orders, pulled out coloring books and waited. And waited. And waited. The waitress came and went. Serving people around us until finally I asked, and she said, “Really, we’ve been slammed. Five tables came in at the same time.” We waited. Finally, more than an hour later, we walked out. Bean burst into tears. Sprout fell asleep. We got greasy pizza. Bean walked around in circles devouring it on a grassy lawn. Later, everyone laughed.
We charted a route to Niagra Falls. We passed outlet malls and road signs for Albany and then for Buffalo, and finally for Niagra. We crossed the river, our eyes drawn to the place where, even from a distance against the city of Toronto on the other side, the spray of the thundering falls rises hundreds of feet into the air. The falls were what they are. Pale green and white. Water moving with unimaginable force, tumbling, hammering the rock below. Across the river, a ferris wheel and docked riverboats. Around us, people taking pictures. People smoking. People pointing. Walking back we passed a large family with all the women wearing burkas. Sprout duked away, scared until I described as gently as I could the way faith and geography and story all make up the reasons we are different, and then he was glad and turned and stared and stared.
Then the worst part. The part that seems so unimaginable I almost didn’t want to write about it, but it’s simultaneous hilarity saved us. Bean got a severe electric shock at an Indian buffet. There. That’s the worst of it. It’s true. It happened just like that. We circled around the tourist center of Niagra Falls, which was oddly vacant on a Thursday afternoon–before the beginning of tourist season. The Seneca Casino loomed large. India restaurants dotted every corner. We like curry and nan. We picked one where we could see the car from the window (we’re sporting a big roof pod) and went in. Naturally, it was deserted. The kind of place with shiny clear plastic table clothes. Some kind of burgundy carpet. Floral patterns. And a buffet. A lone server greeted us, r’s rolling, hands waving. “Where would you like to sit? You can have your pick.”
The boys were hungry. Bean wanted to be in charge of his own plate, and somehow, serving himself a scoop of lentil dahl he touched one thing and something else at the same time: one metal buffet counter and another other one, maybe. We aren’t exactly sure. Then he yelled. And flailed. And couldn’t let go. T reacted faster than I, pulling him off the table, but not fast enough to prevent the indelible image of his convulsing face. I scooped him up. Held him closer than close.
His heart was like a humming bird. The owner rushed over when he heard our outcry. His alarm set off a ruckus of others all emerging from the back rooms, all talking at once. Someone offered to give us food “for free, of course” to go, but we were already pulling on our coats. All I wanted was to leave, faster than fast, my heart close to Bean’s little fluttering heart.
He was fine, thank god. Fine, but terribly shocked and shaken. We ate at TGI Fridays, and after a strawberry milkshake and mozzarella sticks he revived to the point that he looked up at the TV’s above us and said, “I don’t get it Mommy, why would they show a Wendy’s commercial in a TGI Fridays?” Apparently what I do for a living is rubbing off. Within an hour he was telling us about Silver Bullet Trains and Space Shuttles, talking a mile a minute as per his usual. It was late, and by the time we were at our hotel, we collapsed into bed only to find that Clover ate the shoelaces out of Sprout’s Converse shoes and then threw them up in the night. (Something she has never done before, and never since. In fact, the rest of the trip she’s been the perfect travel dog.)
Somehow though, in spite of the pitfalls, what we all were inclined to remember of our first day of this road trip are the moments of laughing and sweetness: Running at rest stops, hearing the thunder of the falls, watching Clover chase squirrels, taking family selfies, playing Big Country in the car, and watching as the landscape changed outside our windows.
Next up: Day 2. Buffalo to Chicago.