Ah, Washington, D.C. – home of the Cherry Blossom Festival, Ben’s Chili Dog, those famous steps from The Exorcist, the Smithsonian museum, and the Washington Post.
And home also to allergies. And traffic. Lots of traffic…
When summer arrives in the nation’s capital, multiply the traffic by about a thousand and you’ve got an idea of the sheer volume of vehicles clogging our local arteries. That’s because interstate 95 (I-95 as it’s affectionately known) is the east coast corridor for travelers heading (mostly) south on vacation. Throw in tractor trailers hauling freight, convoys of military vehicles, and the unholy trinity of Virginia/Maryland/DC commuters, and you have a recipe for traffic nightmares that would give even Gordon Ramsay pause.
The summer exodus begins on Thursday afternoon as everyone heads south to Nags Head, Virginia Beach, Jekyll Island, and Florida. Locals soon learn to plan their weekend excursions on a strictly east-west trajectory. Otherwise, they find themselves surrounded by a sea of overstuffed minivans and short-tempered drivers… and the sinking realization that everyone’s going nowhere, fast.
Nevertheless, every summer, we pack up our collective cars and expectations and join the throngs on the interstate in search of our new home for the next week/two weeks/month. The vacation destination might be a redwood-and-glass beach house, its shelves stocked with water-swollen paperbacks; a log cabin in the mountains; or an oceanfront condo. Whatever or wherever it is, for the duration of our stay, it becomes home.
We pick up our keys from the rental office and arrive at the beach house with a carload of stuff and great expectations. There are plenty of bedrooms to choose from, spectacular views of the ocean to admire, even an in-ground swimming pool and a hot tub on the deck. We can get up in the morning whenever we feel like it. We can stay up as late as we wish. We can say the hell with the diet and have the fried Seafood Platter at Awful Arthur’s. We can live in flip-flops and shorts and ignore the sand-strewn floors (at least until the last day of vacation).
Home. It’s a state of mind, really; the place where you’re grounded, happy, safe. Where you can be yourself, whoever (or whatever) that may be. Where you can wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, or Strawberry Shortcake pajamas, and eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch sitting cross-legged in front of the television – in the middle of the afternoon.
Invariably, though, despite the unequalled joy of reading a trashy novel on a sun lounger by the ocean, I begin to yearn for my own bed. I miss my favorite coffee cup, the local news channel, my parakeets, my desk, my routine. Eventually even the novelty of paradise palls a bit. The seafood platter that tasted so good the first couple of times now gives me… indigestion. I’m not used to eating like this. I’ve probably gained a pound or two, and now I have to go home and spend time on the treadmill to burn it off.
Ugh. Reality is nipping and snarling at our heels soon enough. Before we know it, it’s time to pack our stuff, clean the place up, say goodbye to our vacation, and head back home on the highway… along with the stream of SUVs, vans, and motor homes bristling with bicycles and surfboards and those rooftop storage bins that look like giant Big Mac containers.
Unfortunately, the radio newscaster just announced that there’s a jackknifed tractor trailer outside of Richmond, and there’s a three-mile backup. Expect delays.
Thomas Wolfe had it wrong. It’s not that we can’t go home again; it’s that we can’t get home again.