Traveling to that ‘Christmas place’

This Side Up


I could feel Carol’s tension.

“You know, you’re over the white line.”

I looked in the rear view mirror. There were a couple of cars behind me, but nothing close enough to be an issue.

“I know,” I said trying to be as reassuring as possible. “It helps, I’m having trouble seeing.”

The conditions were terrible. Everyone was in a rush.

The Merritt Parkway isn’t wide to start with, but with the work they are doing, it’s unnerving. In some sections of the road, the shoulders have been replaced with Jersey barriers, giving the highway a tunnel-like feel. That’s tough enough during the day, but we were in speeding traffic on an unusually warm December night. The road was damp, sending a fine mist of road salt onto the windshield. The headlights reflected wisps of fog and the white dashes down the center were the most dependable guide.

The Merritt wasn’t our first choice, but after three lanes of Route 95 came to a standstill for better than five minutes south of New Haven, we opted for it. Still, the traffic was heavy and everybody was in a rush. I guess the Saturday before Christmas is like that.

I switched on the bright lights. Cars coming in the opposite direction flashed back. They weren’t having it any easier. I dimmed the lights and the narrow field of vision closed in once more. Maybe one of my headlights was out. It was awfully dark.

I’ve driven the Merritt hundreds of times. I know the road and that surely helped. Nonetheless, this trip was different. Everything was compressed, even Christmas.

Later that night we would meet my son Jack at Westchester Airport on a flight from Chicago. Earlier, he flew in from Vietnam and would make a one-day extension to join us at my father’s place in Connecticut. My sister, brother-in-law and their two children and their families from different parts of the northeast would be joining us on Sunday. Then, just as quickly, we would all be off in different directions for the rest of the holidays.

Back on the parkway, a car behind flashed its lights. It was traveling quickly. Instinctively, I pulled to the right. I heard Carol’s gasp as the Jersey barrier caught the lights. The passing SUV whizzed by in a mist of road salt. Just as quickly, I gravitated back to the centerline.

Traveling usually provides an opportunity to reflect on all the preparations and what lies ahead, but not this time. Our attention was focused on the road. It had been like this for the past week; only, instead of the road, we had been focused on meeting the schedule and making sure everything came together, that no one would be forgotten.

When we finally reached the exit, there was a sense of relief, although there were still three or four miles of back roads to navigate. There was no traffic, no pressure to maintain the pace. Lights shone in houses and brightly decorated trees were on both sides of the road. I flicked on the high beams and the way opened up.

We glided in a cocoon of dash lights and the hum of the engine. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t need to. The hectic rush was unwinding.

Jack made his flight – it was wonderful to see him and catch up – and everyone arrived for lunch. It was a little strange. This was Christmas and yet it wasn’t. We had gotten off the holiday highway and so had the rest of the family.

And with Christmas tomorrow, may your travels be safe and the arrival as meaningful.


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