Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Way Home

One of the frustrating aspects of city life is traffic delays. There’s no predicting when or where heavy congestion or construction or an accident will occur. It can (as it did tonight) stop me dead in my tracks when I’m just a few miles from my home. 

“Why don’t you try to the right,” my wife suggested. 

“I’m not sure of my way,” I said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a way to Hoboken from there.”

We were on our way back from a wedding and eager to get home and see our kids. There had already been delays on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut and again on River Road in Weehawken. I’d turned us up onto the road that runs up and then along the top of the Palisades Cliffs above the Hudson River as a detour but had been once again thwarted again by unexplainable delays. 

I’d already taken two detours on the trip and was out of known options. Experience warned me not to try a new shortcut when I was getting upset.

“A round of golf is not the place to try a new swing,” my old instructor had told me. I tried to remain calm and stick to the roads I knew. But because of the multiple blocks and the uncanny way that the traffic lights seemed to be timed against me, I began to think that there was an invisible (and powerful) presence determined to slow me down. 

“How can this be?” I said aloud and brought my hands down on the steering wheel with a thump up. My wife didn’t try to answer. I took the hint and tried to keep my frustration quiet. 

Somewhere I swear I could hear a little snicker from a dark corner of the universe - my mind was slipping.  

I think part of the anxiety I was feeling was withdrawal symptoms from our children. My wife and I had been away for an overnight trip (there were no children at the wedding) and my mother in law had graciously sat for us. I expected to feel some relief from the time away, and I did ... sort of; I felt like I do when the power goes out - always turning to turn on the lights and finding out again that there’s no joy. 

I wanted to get home and give them a hug. 

“I just want to go home,” I said more softly and put my head against the wheel when a light had turned red against me just as the traffic ahead began to move. 

“Okay,” my wife said lightly and opened up her People magazine. She’d determined correctly that I was better left alone. 

We stuttered along across JFK Boulevard East in Weehawken like this for maybe an hour. 

The day was brilliant and the New York City skyline shone out like bright gold and silver in the level beams of the setting sun. It calmed me a little. We reached a point on the cliff that I felt more sure of and I made a turn that allowed me to avoid the last mile or so of congestion. 

“Done,” I said as we cruised down to the lower level of the land that Hoboken rests on, “Home soon I hope.”

“No Jinxes,” my wife said suspiciously. 

“Come on,” I thought rolling my eyes, “Three times is a charm. What could go wrong.”

We made the last mile quickly and was in sight of our little road when I saw the orange traffic cones and blinking lights of the PSE&G vans and knew that my wife had been right. 

There was a back hoe and a gas crew on our block - one of our neighbors had a gas leak - and all the street’s parking spots were taken. 

“Drop me off please,” my wife said, “I’ll go help my Mom while you park.” 

As drove about looking for a spot. I rolled up the windows and shouted and cursed like I was throwing snowballs at the side of a house; harmless and exhausting and satisfying. I took a deep breath. I found a spot and headed in to see the kids. 

“Daddy!” my daughter shouted as I came in the door, “There’s a tractor!” 

“I know sweetheart,” I said, “I saw it.” 

She smiled and jumped up and down and made me take her outside to see it. I put my son on my hip too and we all went out to see the little setup of digging equipment that had been my final obstacle to coming home. The men were busy finishing their work and did not look up or take notice of us. After a while we went back inside and I let her continue to watch the work from her bedroom window. 

When the light had failed, and the men finally began to pack up and drive off, I thought how much longer their day had been than mine. I felt a little silly for getting so upset. 

My daughter turned to me from the window as I heard the machine’s noise receding.  

“They’re going home,” she said, “The tractor’s going to sleep.” 

“Home,” I thought to myself and then said aloud for her, “Everybody goes home eventually. Even tractors.” 

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