Thursday morning around 8:00 I was in bed with a cup of tea, checking our flights from Philly to Orlando on Saturday. My heart sank at the exact moment that my phone buzzed with a text from Pete. Southwest is offering free flight changes for Saturday but Friday is booked. Should we switch to Sunday?
Two minutes and three texts later, we decided that the only way we could guarantee we weren't going to miss our first day of this Disney trip (which we've been planning with Pete's parents for several years now) was to drive down the east coast before the storm hit. Meaning that we had to start driving, immediately.
Pete was forty-five minutes away. So while he drove home, I started calling hotels and airlines and car rentals to cancel and make reservations, my cell tucked under my chin while I threw laundry in the machine and pulled suitcases out from under the bed. Pete arrived and we kissed on the stairs in passing, finished packing, cleaned the house in a frenzy, yelled questions from across the house to finalize plans. I heated leftovers for a quick meal and bagged fruit for the road; Pete took out the garbage and lugged the suitcases outside. Anders rounded the corner wheeling his little suitcase with a $3 Target light saber sticking out of the front pouch. "The TSA will never let you bring that on the plane on the way home, buddy," I said, and he reluctantly took it out of his bag.
By 11:30 AM we were in a rental car and on the road. Pete drove for the first leg while I edited in the passenger seat. (I had to construct a tent out of pillows to block the sun from my screen, and I had to listen to my white noise app to block out the sound of a chattery five-year-old. But I made my deadline.) Around six we stopped at a Waffle House where Pete and Anders ate and I snagged some wifi to send off my completed project. Then we filled up with gas, apparently having driven back in time to the 1990s ($1.49 a gallon?!) and got back on the road.
Fast forward to two in the morning: Anders has been conked out in the back for hours, Pete is sleeping in the passenger seat with his baseball cap pulled over his eyes, and I've been listening to Ryan Adams sing "Oh My Sweet Carolina" for a good stretch of South Carolina. I pass a sign welcoming me to Georgia and switch to Vance Joy's "Georgia."
Long road trips are always meditative and a little melancholy, but there's something to be said about driving straight through the night to beat a winter storm on your way to the happiest place on earth. There were a few times I had to turn on my wipers for pockets of drizzly rain and I kept bracing myself to hit something torrential, but it never came. I missed the sign welcoming me to Florida, so it wasn't until the sun came up over the palm trees and bounced off the silvery pavement that I knew we had made it. ("Florida Key" from The New Basement Tapes, if you're wondering.)
Pete was looking at his weather radar today, trying to convey to me just how poetic the timing of our route had been. "If we had left an hour later, or if we had been just a little bit west, we would have hit it," he said. "You absolutely love that, don't you?" I teased him. "Oh, yeah," he said. "There's something so satisfying about mastering a machine in the elements." I snickered and fell in love with him a little bit more, which I've been doing for more than a decade whenever he says stuff like "mastering a machine in the elements."
I read this a few years ago, and it stuck with me.
I've had different reactions to that quote at different points in my marriage. Of course we control our marriage, I've thought. Who else controls it? We make the decisions. We call the shots. It's our commitment and strength of character that either pulls this off or fails. But that was back when I had very clear, very simple definitions of success and failure and not a whole lot of respect for journey. The more I've traveled and the longer I've been married, the truer this is. I may not know the certain secret to marriage, but I know the certain way to be wrong about it.
I'm going to skip over all of my obtuse metaphors for life and storms and machines and marriage and just say that I'm really, really happy to be in Florida right now. There are a lot of reasons why this trip shouldn't have worked out—some you know, some you don't know, and a blizzard being the least of them. But we're here, and we're happy, and the sunshine feels great.