Sometimes it’s hard to know just when a story really starts.
This one probably began nearly a month ago as we pulled out of our driveway on the way to a pair of North Carolina weddings and a long list of places we wanted to try and see that would keep us bouncing on and around the eastern seaboard for the next four weeks. Or maybe it really began on a tree-lined street in a small Indiana town, as we shucked the tyranny of the interstate highway system and began enjoying the trip for the sake of the company and the view. It might have been the first glimpse of the mountains or the first breath of salt sea air; the first sloppy kiss from a grandson or the joyful ones shared by blushing brides and proud grooms. The sight and sound of relatives and friends around tables and trails and beaches and backyards and the water views and mountain majesties we all shared. The real story may have started the night we saw the midnight UFOs from the shores of our beachfront campground, or maybe on the rainy night I sent us hurtling the wrong way on the cross-Bronx expressway. The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Maryland and the Trump Marina hotel in Atlantic City both offered stories of their own, as did the battlefields of both the American revolution and the Civil War, the apple orchards and color-drenched mountains of upstate New York and Vermont, and the riptide currents of a hurricane-driven coast that finally gave away to slow, warm, gulf-stream waters. Fall came and came again over these past few weeks, throughout the hummocks and hills of the northeast forests and, finally, in the vast, winding prettiness of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which had just received its autumn paint job as we traveled through on the last stretch towards home.
But if the places were pretty and varied and worth remembering, they were no more a part of this journey than the people.
We encountered convenience store clerks, waiters and waitresses, toll collectors, ferrymen, rangers, cops and a whole host of other folks who managed to be funny, interesting, happy and helpful in turn, making us realize that people really are ready to be nice if you give them a chance.
It’s been a shakedown cruise of sorts, as we test our wings, our energy, our enthusiasm and our full-time compatibility after years of diverse careers and interests that often made time together more like a series of stolen moments than a ongoing thing. No, it wasn’t all beer and skittles every mile of the way. Much of the on-the-road friction that did occasionally occur was due to my bold, but sometimes foolish navigation style. No doubt, my nighttime appearance, with a headlamp banded around my forehead and two pair of reading glasses stacked together for better map reading, did nothing to increase her confidence in my abilities. But we eventually got where we wanted to go, with well over 5000 miles of highways, backroads, coastal causeways and mountain passes to our credit.
The good news is she’s still speaking to me.
There are almost too many stories to tell, though I’m sure we’ll try over the next days and weeks and months and years, even. Meanwhile, we’ll look at pictures, scour over maps and memories...and dream about the next time.