There was a young couple I knew who had two kids and two sets of parents. On Christmas they would get up super early, have Christmas with the kids, load the kids up, drive an hour to the wife’s parent’s house, have breakfast with them, and Christmas, and then load up, and drive five hours to the husband’s parent’s house. I told them early on this was a hellish thing to do to the kids, but they couldn’t find a way out of it that made everyone happy. We did this when I was a kid going to my grandparent’s house on Christmas, and then once my parents got divorced we would do the split Christmas thing. My father made my mother drive two hours to come get us, and then two hours to take us back to her house and then two hours to bring us back, and then two hours to get back home, and she did it, too. The distance between the two homes never decreased by a single mile and for kids on Christmas the four hours on the road were unbearable. But again, after the divorce, it was every other weekend, and it was two hours there and two hours back. This was long before MP3 players, or ear buds, or cell phones, and the only benison was trying to read a book, or escaping into my own little world.
One of my favorite storylines was that we were trying to sneak into enemy territory but they had been tipped off, and knew we were somewhere, but didn’t know where. I considered us caught if a car or truck met us at a county line, or on a bridge. If a law enforcement car met us on the open road then any car or truck behind us was in pursuit, and if they passed us we were caught. A law enforcement car behind mean we had been chased and likely would be killed. If the cops pulled out in front of us, that meant we had very stealthily slipped by them, and we were totally good at being spies.
Of course, there were various places along the way which gave us information as to where to turn or not turn, certain businesses and restaurants that had marquee signs or handwritten special of the day blackboards. Since we always took the same route, and it never changed, all I really had to do was rearrange the letters so they would in some way read, “take the next right”, or “ammo available at the filling station” or “dump your wounded in the creek” and I did think of such things, even as a child. Murray’s Mill was a place in the swamps where we could hide out for a couple of days until the military stopped search for us. We would blow up the bridge behind us if they found out we were there and raided the place. Local airports were places we would pick up scientists with doomsdays devices or our target for machinegun fire if the right person was there at the right time. Long before GPS or Google Earth I envisioned a world where a wristwatch or the car clock would have preprogrammed instructions loaded into it, somehow, and you had to drive whatever direction the clock was pointing. One hand was pointing in the direction, and the other hand would be for how far, but I hadn’t decided how units…blocks…miles…bullet riddled bodies… might be discerned. All the various gauges on the dashboard meant something and each one was always on the verge of announcing some new goal met, some new disaster befallen, or something totally unplanned for.
It was two hour there and two hours back. If I was lucky I would sleep during the ride but that was rare. It was a grand tour through a few South Georgia towns that no one has ever heard of, Bronwood, Smithville, Morgan, Arlington, and it got to the point I remembered a huge Oak that split down the middle and died, right outside of Morgan. In Smithville there was a metal pipe that looked like a water pipe for a house that ran exposed along the ground then disappeared into a clay bank. Arlington had for years the Arles Hotel but then it was torn down, but it was a great old building. We watched a movie that was over a decade long, from the time we were infants traveling that road to our grandmother’s house, during the divorce years and it finally ended when I moved out on my own, never to travel that same road again. Houses sprang up, burned down, businesses started and fail, people lived and died, and during all that while, in my mind ran a nonstop story of intrigue and drama, with each small town playing a part in it. All the while, I missed most of what was really happening. I think that was intentional.
It was two hours there and two hours back. We would ride along mostly in silence if my father was driving and mostly in silence if my mother was driving for that matter, but it was still two hours there and two hours back. I often wondered if either ever felt relieved at the end of the drive, knowing we were gone for X amount of time, and they would not have to make that drive again for Z amount of time, and there was time I never wanted to go back to either place, and I wanted just to stay in one place, any place, and never have to sit and ride back and forth as if I was a ping pong ball with no real purpose than to be moved back and forth, over the net, into the net, off the table and into some deep dark corner, or slammed hard, ricocheting awkwardly somewhere not to be found, but it was two hours there and it was two hours back.