Mile 0. I have tossed the luggage in the back of our 2008 blue Subaru Outback with the left rear fender secured by duct tape. I have no idea who ran into the car this time or even how it happened, but there was not enough time for body shop work. Besides, the duct tape should do fine and adds personality. I drive out of the Kennedy-Warren garage and pick up Embry in front of Starbuck’s holding two coffees and a muffin. It is nine am on Wednesday, June 15. We are off.
Embry came up with the idea of the theme for the road trip– “Searching for the Real America: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’’ I added, “In the Age of Trump.” The news is blaring over the radio; and it is, as usual, all about Trump—his doubling down on nailing Muslims, all of them, his insinuation that Obama was somehow behind the Orlando massacre, and that one of Hillary’s top advisors is a terrorist working for Isis. I groan and turn off the radio concluding that at least we have the ugly part covered today.
This will certainly be, I think, our last big trip, which means that reflection and looking back on our combined 144 years on this planet is unavoidable. I immediately think of Washington, our home for the last 44 years. Who would have guessed that we would stay in our Macomb Street house in the Cleveland Park neighborhood for 43 years, raise two children (whom we are very proud of and who have, with their spouses, produced four glorious grandchildren), pursue what turned out to be fulfilling careers for both of us, and enjoy lasting friendships with so many great people? As they say, “You have been blessed,” and by any measure we have.
Mile 15. I realize that almost an hour has passed, and we still have not reached the Northern Virginia Beltway. Cars are stalled bumper to bumper on both sides of I 66. “Metrogedden,” I conclude since observing the empty ground level tracks, I see no trains running on the Blue/Silver Line. This is due to single tracking and track closings to address safety and deferred maintenance issues, a sad and deplorable situation attributed to mismanagement and inadequate funding. People are giving up on Metro and driving. The repairs will continue for at least a year, and no one will be spared the long waits and jam packed trains. I am relieved that at least we will miss the first two months of this nightmare.
Remainder of trip through the mountains, miles 15-350. Miraculously the cars thin out and we are driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains are breathtaking and on this day actually appear blue amidst fields of every possible shade of green, with yellow, lavender and orange wild flowers along the interstate. Embry asks if I think we will ever see a landscape more beautiful. Of course, we have driven this leg many times, probably close to fifty, since for many years we drove along this road to visit Embry’s mother in Davidson and for weekend getaways with friends to go canoeing, hiking and cross county skiing. But somehow this time it seems special.
The experience is far from euphoric, however, due to the heavy traffic and the high percentage, maybe close to half, of eighteen wheelers, which tend to roar along at 80 miles an hour and tailgate if you are slowing them down. I tell myself that traffic will diminish as we head west. The other ugly aspect of this leg are the billboards. There are interstates that are worse, but to have any billboards defacing a bucolic setting like this in my view is a crime against humanity. You don’t see this kind of thing in Europe or for that matter practically anywhere we went on our trip around the world last year. I know that there are setback requirements on interstate highways which prevent advertising totally in your face, but they are not enough. All the billboards on scenic roads in the U.S. should be removed, blown up and destroyed.
This brings to mind gun control, promoted by the news we are hearing over the radio that for the first time even some Republicans may be having second thoughts about gun control after the worst mass gun killing in American history. Again, gun violence and the killing of innocent people does not happen on this scale in other countries. Would the founding fathers have turned a blind eye if military assault rifles—designed for one purpose, to kill other human beings—were readily available? Please. I turn off the radio again as Embry plugs in her ipod and we listen to symphonies by Beethoven and sonatas by Schuman.
By late afternoon we have arrived in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia. We are stopping here because the first five years of Embry’s life were spent here, and she has managed to dig up the address, which we put on our GPS. After driving through a surprisingly quaint but small down town with numerous bars, boutiques and somewhat upscale looking restaurants, we find the house and take a photo. (Smallish, wood frame, old and tired, with a huge back yard, modest neighborhood.) The amazing thing is that she recognized the house immediately.
Nothing special about the evening—Hampton Inn, ribs at Logan’s Road House (the place was packed at 5:15.), returning early so Embry could assist in phone interviews for the search process at All Souls Church. Nothing special, that is, until I checked the baseball scores on my iphone and learned the Nats beat the Cubs 5-4 in 12 innings, down by one going into the bottom of the twelfth, winning the three game matchup between the best two teams in the majors.