In the car

I don’t like long car rides. This is one of the most basic facts that I can tell you about myself. In fact, I have often claimed (and this is very close to the truth) that the real reason I ended up in the (very lovely) Columbia County is that when my ex-husband and I, driving up from New York City to check out places to live, reached this area after about two-and-a-half hours, that was just the point at which I could no longer bear to be in the car. We looked around and it was beautiful. Done!

But that was 15 years ago, before I truly understood what car rides meant (though I did write about another significant car ride, which my brother is doomed to remember for the rest of his life, but that is a whole other story). Anyway.

My boyfriend Tony and I just returned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, and while there were many delights on this trip (as well as humidity) (also mosquitos), I find myself completely focused on the mind-bogglingly long car rides we took just to get there. And to get back.

When you’re in the car for basically 10 hours at a stretch, you find yourself thinking back to the two-and-a-half hours it took to get from New York City to Columbia County, and how you were so lucky back then. You were so lucky that time you drove two hours down to Westchester and two hours back in a single day. And you were especially lucky those times you weren’t in a car. Remember those times? Remember even that time not long ago that you set the microwave timer at work for two minutes and wondered hilariously how, exactly, to fill the time until your oatmeal was ready?

We all have our own visions of hell and I am certain that mine takes place in a car. Usually I envision myself on the Taconic during a snowstorm, but just an eternal car ride would do the trick.

I know, I know. So many people love road trips! And it’s true, they are, at times, totally fun. We listened to podcasts (one describing Hollywood around the time of the Charles Manson murders, another in which a man’s robotic voice made me cry with laughter) and to music that we could sing along to, and there were entertaining billboards and signs to amuse us, and roadside diners (in which I discovered, repeatedly, the joys of pimento cheese) and best of all, we even passed a woman in a car that had written on the side in a fancy script “Black Nasty.” And yet. There was just the driving.

The longest day was our trip from Charleston to Washington, D.C., which was the 10-hour day (which we’d done in reverse on the way down, and which had gone quite well), and which was going pretty well this time too, as Tony drove the first half and I drove the last four hours, but as we reached the city itself, closing in on 9pm, something kind of snapped in me. I’d driven enough. And yet, we weren’t quite there yet. But I had absolutely had it. So that when I pulled over to the street across from my friend Matt’s apartment (where we stayed for the night), I literally couldn’t drive the three feet necessary to park the car. I demanded that Tony park it and I got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk, almost blind from rage. Minutes later, we were laughing about it, but it turns out my limit for driving a car now has a number: precisely four hours. Done!

The following day we would drive six hours to my dad’s house in the Catskills and the following day we would drive (with my kids) two-and-a-half hours home. Two-and-a-half hours! That glorious time that once seemed like the absolute limit I could endure in a car! How luxuriously short a ride it felt! I even volunteered to drive the last half hour like a person who had never reached her absolute driving limit! I drove like a person who knew how to spend 10 hours in a car, like a person who’d know exactly what to do while her oatmeal was heating up for two minutes in the microwave. I was free! I was getting out of the car! 

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