We pile in the Caravan, dad driving, mom knitting in the passenger seat, sister way in the back, me sandwiched in the middle. He turns on the radio, AM radio. It is the 1990s and you would think we could have at least used an FM station, but no. There's a Cubs game on, wait, no, it's the Cubs pre-game. I stifle a groan, knowing we would listen to the pre-game show, the actual game, and then the post-game. This would take us through to almost the middle of Wisconsin, and I am already bored.
Sister rolls her eyes at me, knowing, as I do, that we will be hearing intermittent cheering and/or cursing for the next five to six hours. She puts her headphones on and I know she is all but gone to me until the car stops again.
Then, as now, I will fall asleep if I don't find something to do to occupy myself. Mom used to make up silly games for us, occasionally even pack a travel board game or two, but for the last couple of road trips, she has simply packed her yarn and needles and left us to our own devices. I start counting out-of-state license plates, reveling in tractor-trailers and U-Hauls. I try to spot signs with all the letters of the alphabet: A in Grand Rapids 15 miles, B in Benton Harbor 70 miles, C in McDonalds next exit. I write them down on a piece of paper. Around the letter R I am done with this game. No one will ever see this list and what is its purpose?
The voices drone on and on about ERAs. I was pretty sure it wasn't in reference to the equal rights amendment.
I pull out a book. I have packed about a dozen books for this trip, knowing I will read them all multiple times. A few are old favorites: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Black Beauty. Frances Nolan's life in Brooklyn is far removed from mine, but she reads and is smart and finds a way to succeed. I want to be her. Mary Lennox is unpopular and shy and sometimes sarcastic and always misunderstood and I know I am her. Anne Shirley is the anti-Mary Lennox and I marvel and her ability to overcome obstacles, to fit in, and to be everything I am not.
The car slows and the parents are consulting on which fast food place we should eat dinner. Sister votes for Wendy's in the backseat. If she could eat at Wendy's every day, she would. I, as usual, say nothing, knowing that in the pecking order of our family, my desires mean nothing.
As we get out, Wendy's it is, the smell of a newly tarred road is overwhelming. Sister makes a comment about how we should get in the restaurant as soon as possible. I inhale the scent, loving its sharpness, knowing that it is a fresh beginning for the road, and appreciating that this new road will take many travelers, just like us, to new places.
Later, after dinner, we stop for gas. I stand next to the car as the adults pump and wash the windshield, breathing deeply, loving the gasoline and fresh tar smell, vowing that someday I'll stop and enjoy the smell for as long as I want to.
On our first road trip together, as a newly dating couple, Biker Boy and I stood at a gas station, both of us inhaling the tang of gasoline and freshly poured tar. We stood there for several minutes. We had, oddly enough, come from a Wendy's, and this memory came flooding back. I could stand here and smell this as long as I wanted to and this man would let me do so. Already a tiny part of my heart belonged to him, but right then, a large chunk became his.