Our flight to San Francisco takes off in under an hour, but here we were, the three of us, bouncing along a foggy Cross Island Parkway with a stuffed trunk on route to John F. Kennedy Airport.
Eyes closed, I was half-asleep and sunk into the backseat like a full-grown baby. Maybe I was low on juju, no doubt blind to the grey sky, but at least mesmerized by the cadence of rubber tires thumping on asphalt. Since I was a kid, bumpy roads always knocked me out. And it didn't help that Danielle and I were up, almost all night, stuffing half-broken suitcases with who knows what. We were too wiped out to drive. Thankfully, Pearl offered one of her many motherly services.
"Maybe you can... hurry the fuck up?!" pleaded Danielle from her front-seat nap.
My wife was nervous. Her mother Pearl was rambling at the wheel again, distracted from the task at hand. Our timeline called for aggression - those kinds of maneuvers you'd see from basically any New York taxi driver - the slide, the swerve, the skid - the moves my grandfather pulled when rushing the lawyer, the kid, the soon-to-be president Nixon (true story), who was ten minutes late for a court hearing that one random summer day in 1960-something - but my mother-in-law? She was in no rush. She was on cruise control in the right lane at 49 miles per hour raving about Juneteenth and how the concept of time zones should be abolished.
Our giddy-ups and our soon-to-be forgotten words got sucked out the windows, sucked back to feed the roadside trees with a dose of anxiety.
The parkway really does sounds aggressive when you're right in the thick of it - the honks and the shouts, the cranked music and cracked engines, the cries of an ambulance and a mother after a Honda Civic pileup - but from just 500 feet away, where the three of us live together in perfect harmony, if you sit in the dog-piss backyard, close your eyes, and meditate from the red-and-white striped TJ Maxx lawn chairs, the nasty hissings of the Cross Island orchestra blend together into a white noise that can easily be mistaken for a peaceful river.
Our journey down this winding stream of frozen tar fell short on inspiration. It was littered with LED signs that blinked "COVID Tests Available." Under the grey sky was a Super 8 motel, covered in fake Venetian roof tiles, and swarming with unmasked rabbit-humans, recently woken from hibernation and looking to fuck anything with legs. Antennas, Mitsubishis, painted white lines, and lamp posts droned on by. Architects call this "junk space." It's that incoherent chatter between FM radio stations, neither music, nor silence.
But where Danielle and I were headed, up into the high mountains of north California, we'd find the real rivers, and lakes, and those beautiful forms we've only ever seen through computer wallpapers. We'd confirm if the hidden meadows on the backside of haunted Indian mountains exist! (And whether or not they're flooded with chakra-hungry panthers of the fifth dimension.) When legends and crooked geology scare developers from building casinos and tree houses, it creates a void, giving hotspot-pilgrims a taste of absolute silence, making their ears ring like a broken Intel processor, triggering an altitude-induced factory reset, making them vulnerable - defenseless from fresh visions that will assault their minds like machine-gun Twitter wisdom.
We're overdue for a vacation.