July 22, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day Three

Okay, so day three of Traveling With Bob has taken me a while to write. When you add my propensity for procrastination and a new house full of people to distract me, it is easy for me to take a few days off from writing. That being said, I will try and sum up the memory of my last day on the road with my dad. It was the longest of the three and one of the few times in my life that I have ever been truly pissed at him.

We left Cincinatti at 8:30 in good spirits, having just spent the night with family. We were treated to a pancake breakfast and some fresh coffee, and we hit the road with our very own map of town, compliments of Uncle Gary. It seems that map loving runs in my wife’s family. We all pored over the best route to take out of town while we scarfed down breakfast. Our first mini-goal for the day would be Columbus. It should be noted here that the population of Columbus is a shade over 73,000 people and that all three VanHart children attended school there at The Ohio State University. On the family’s many trips to Columbus, they always traveled on Routes 71 and 70.

We were told the trip would take us just over an hour and a half, covering about 100 miles. It being a Monday morning and our leaving a metropolis (of sorts) traffic was not an issue. Yet when we were about 20 miles outside of Cincinnati my father opened the map for the first time during the trip. I should say, opened and understood the map for the first time during the trip. No, I should say, opened and thought he understood the map for the first time during the trip. He confidently told me that there was a way around Columbus that would save us “at least a half hour.”

I questioned him, though half heartedly, about this choice, but finally relented after a somewhat reasoned dissertation on miles and the, get this, amount of trucks that drive in and out of Columbus. As I was agreeing I knew he was wrong. Why did I go along? I was taking advice from a man who hadn’t traveled in years and who spent the previous two days telling me he couldn’t figure out my map—it is laid out sequentially rather than confining each state to a single page no matter its size. I went along because he is my father and he knows that the good old days of blind trust are over. I went along because he used to work in the steel industry and his truck explanation was at least slightly plausible. I also went along because he’s a pain in the ass.

Guess what? I was really right. Route 22 south of Columbus takes nearly the identical path of Routes 71 and 70 and it goes through such thriving cityscapes as Amanda and Zanesville. Timeout. This was where in the story I thought I would rant the most. I had planned on telling the story of our trip to Cooperstown, NY when my brother and I were younger. When I held the map in my teenage hands and confidently mapped out a shortcut home using all small, direct roads. My dad knowingly went along, and hours upon hours later, when we walked through the door exhausted, a lesson had been learned. Two actually: that shortcuts are always longer in the end, and that they are the only way to actually see the country you are traveling through. I have lost some of my zeal over the past few days, so instead of elaborating, I will show you the map of our route and tell you that it took us over two and half hours to cover the ground that on the highway was slightly less than one and a half.

By the time we got back on the highway it was 2:30 and we were both tired, frustrated and, at least for me, incredibly bitter. Part of this was my fault, having underestimated how much I would miss my baby and super pregnant wife, part if this was my Dad’s fault suggesting his crackpot shortcut, and yet another part was my inability to tell me dad exactly how I feel. He and I are different men. Whereas I talk, he, um, doesn’t. Whereas I explore—places, people new ideas—he stopped doing that long ago. Whereas I discuss what I’m feeling, he is bottled up tight with a snug fitting cork on his emotions. So when I told him over Big Macs how bitter I was for having wasted the morning, he was surprised and maybe a little hurt. Somewhere inside, I’m sure he was thinking about the Cooperstown trip and the joy we got out of those old, scenic roads, despite their windingly slow nature. But there was no pregnant wife then, no baby, no responsibilities. The point was that if I felt those things and it seemed important to tell him, then I should do so, even if this only made one of us feel better.

After my fourth Big Mac of the week, (Honey, the only reason I ate so many is that having not flown in 30 years, my Dad’s ears still hadn’t popped five days later. This caused myriad problems during the trip, not the least of which was my having to repeat half the things I said, but also caused him—out of embarrassment—to not ask the girl at McDonalds to repeat herself when he couldn’t hear her. So when she asked him if he wanted two #1’s, and two Big Macs, and a twenty piece chicken McNugget, and two large Coke’s and—Jesus Christ—three large fries, he just nodded his head deafly and paid. It was only when he got to the car that he questioned the sheer weight of the sacks he lumbered out of the restaurant with and the $25 tab) I let the old man have a turn behind the wheel. His job was to get us to Pennsylvania.

Amazingly, we did this with no hiccups and soon I was back behind the wheel cruising towards Harrisburg and home. Things in the car had calmed down thanks to full bellies and my breaking of the 8 mile per hour rule. Also, in my head I had decided that no matter what, we were getting home that night. If all continued to go well, we would be home by ten. And you know what, it did. We blitzed Harrisburg and Hazleton, soon coming to the familiar ground of the Poconos and Route 80.

Sure, along the way my Dad tried out a few more shortcuts on me. Some potential winners (taking Route 81 up to 84 and coming in the “back way” to New Jersey) and some out and out fucking bombs (taking Route 76 all the way to the Northeast Extension of Route 476 and then heading north—a move that would have cost us 40 miles). Maturely, I ignored all of his suggestions and stuck to the basics. I had a baby to see, not the Amish countryside.

Despite all of his antics and our good natured ribbing of each other, we made it to his house by 9 P.M. and I was in the door of mine by 10. I stomped my feet a little to loudly, by accident of course, and woke up Annie, thus having to go to her new room and settle her down. As I held her in my arms and she looked up at my brimming eyes as if I were a stranger, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before my grace period of perfection would be up. It took over 30 years for my father’s to run its course, but I was blindingly devoted and a little sheltered. I hope that by raising Annie to question her surroundings she will discover my fallibility a little sooner and save me the embarrassment of the two of us being fully aware of it when it passes.


Blogger Kathy said...

remember, 35 years this August!

August 6, 2008 at 11:21 AM  

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