To me, the worst part about the trip to Michigan for the funeral seemed to be the distance, the time in the car.
A lot had changed.
As a child, my family made an annual pilgrimage to Flint to visit my father’s parents. We’d leave just before dark in the summer. Dad would do most of the driving. By the time I was 10 years old, I rode shotgun with him, pouring his coffee, keeping him company while Mom and my two sisters somehow nodded off in the back and slept.
Those trips were important to me. I remember the smell of the hot coffee poured from his green and chrome thermos. I remember the old radio shows on AM radio: Fibber McGee and Molly, X-Minus One and a million different westerns and crime shows. I remember riding through West Virginia one year and hearing Bill Withers “Just the Two of us” played over and over on every other station we found.
On the road, in the wee hours, we talked –Well, Dad talked. He told me his stories and I listened. He told me things he never mentioned during the day. He talked about Vietnam. He talked about growing up in Flint and mentioned some of the less pleasant things he'd done and often regretted. He rattled off his thoughts about politics and music.
Some of it was nonsense or seemingly contradictory, but I loved it.
Still, the drive was a killer.
Many times, we left just before dark and usually arrived mid-morning in Flint, ready for Dunkin Donuts at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Dad would sleep all day.
And for years, I measured out the time to get to my grandmother’s house to be around 10 to 12 hours –half the day, for sure. It was too long to try alone, too long to try with a family, too long to try in a beat up Geo Metro, a beat up Toyota Station wagon, a beat up Dodge Neon…
It just couldn’t be done; not under these circumstances.
But with the funeral, at least this time I had a new car with a good engine, solid brakes and tires that didn’t need to be inflated back to a round shape every 30 miles. I also had satellite radio, a working cell phone and a yearly income that exceeded 18 thousand dollars per year. I was insured, too --something that wasn't always the case.
There was never going to be a better time for me to make the trip, even if I was going to have to take it alone. I didn't want to go alone, but I didn't have much of a choice. Neither of the cats are especially good travelers.
Before I left, I needed directions. I had a general idea where Michigan was on the map, just head north, but I’d scarcely looked in that direction in over a decade.
I checked online.
The first time I entered the start and arrival point, I shook my head. It had to be a mistake.
I picked a different map service and tried again.
The results were identical. Allowing some fuzziness to a hard number because of road construction, traffic delays or too much coffee, all sources indicated I could be at my destination in right around 6 ½ hours.
I felt sick and guilty.
As a comfort, I told myself on the road it was probably different. I would probably get turned around and I did, right off the bat. I started toward Huntington when I should have started toward Parkersburg. Also, one of my exits was closed and so I couldn’t leave the main route when I was supposed to.
Beyond that the speed limit fluctuated from 45 to 70 miles an hour and traffic was dicey around Columbus. I drove through the morning, stopped for gas, stopped for lunch at White Castle (a first for me) and got a coffee at Starbucks.
I still made it in 6 ½ hours.
Damn it to hell.