Friday, July 9, 2010

The Great Road Trip Takes a Detour

The thing one has to have on a major road trip is a sense of patience.  A sense of humor doesn't hurt.  Marissa and I left Virginia Beach on a Friday after a night in an absurdly overpriced hotel on the boardwalk, and a hasty morning getting a little beach time.  I had never been there before, and I haven't been back since, so I have no idea if it is typical or not, but we got stuck in mad traffic funneling into a narrow tunnel to get out of the area.  That ate up a lot of time and caused us to end up on the DC Beltway at rush hour on a Friday night.  A few things about that:  1) I never, ever, ever wanted to drive in Washington, so it goes without saying that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever wanted to be stuck in rush hour traffic on the Beltway;  2) everyone is from somewhere else in Washington, so a bizillion people are trying to leave to get home for the weekend, even if they stay in the city during the week; 3) the metropolitan area of Washington is really big and spread out, and the Beltway loops around all of it, in a 64-mile circle, every inch of which is jammed with a mass of commuters, most of them in a mad rush and on their phone.  Insanity.  Pure and simple.  It's a true testament to how badly I wanted to be a part of the current administration that I applied for a job in the Obama White House after that single Beltway experience.  The idea of having to make that commute on a routine basis makes me shudder.

I have no idea how many of the 64 miles we actually traveled on Interstate 495, surely less than half, but it seemed like 6,400 miles in about the same amount of hours.  I was so tense, if Marissa had reached over and poked me, I probably would have shattered like glass.  My fingers were wrapped so tightly on the steering wheel, I had to peel them off when we finally did stop for the evening.  I was so traumatized by that experience, trying not to get hit by people weaving in and out of bumper-to-bumper traffic, while watching for the appropriate exits, some of which were right lane exits, some of which were left, that I finally pulled us into some quaint looking little town in Maryland that seemed very far away from anything remotely like a city with cars.  And there we stayed for the next two days until I had sufficiently recovered both my nerve and the feeling in my fingers.  That meant we did not make it for the Davidson Family Reunion, the very one I had been trying to get my mom to.

Turns out we landed in Hagerstown, MD.  Hagerstown, some of you history buffs may know, claims to be the home to the Antietam Battlefield (I say it that way because it's actually outside of town and also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg because it's also near Sharpsburg, MD).  Hagerstown also houses an outlet mall, a quaint park where they hold concerts on summer weekend evenings, a fantastic indoor Farmer's Market, and, from what I could gather from eavesdropping on some of the locals, a significant crystal meth problem amongst the teenage population.  It was a pleasant place to wile away a couple of days because we didn't know any of the local teenagers to implode the facade of Pleasant Small Town.  We explored the battlefield, stocked up for the week at the cabin, and washed away the sand from Marissa's week at the beach at the downtown laundromat, which was, as it turns out, not really the best part of town to be in.  (Some of the same naivete that kept life challenging for me as a young person in Austin still haunts me, I'm afraid.)  Whatever we did, I made sure it involved as little driving as possible.

Every where we went, Marissa was being hit on.  Both sort of disturbing and amusing.  But, her new found sobriety coupled with a week at the beach left her with a glow that seemed to draw people to her.  One rather nerdy young man at the bookstore was so intent on getting himself in her good graces, he tried to sidle up to me, as though if I found him charming, I could sell him to my daughter.  Of course, it was also a little disturbing, having total strangers come up to my then 18-year old daughter with that certain gleam in their eye.  That's my baby you're fantasizing about, mister!

Hagerstown holds a soft spot in my heart because it provided me shelter from the maddening traffic of the big city, and because, despite being less than a hundred miles from Baltimore and more than two hundred from Pittsburgh, I saw far more Steeler fans there than I did Raven faithful.  Rock on, Hagerstown.

After recalculating my timeline, we pulled out from our little haven and headed into central Pennsylvania, up into the Allegheny mountains for the next leg of our trip:  a week in a cabin along what is known as the Elk Trail.

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