Sat 29 Dec 2007
sometimes running away from home for a few days is just the very best thing in the world. except maybe for coming home again.
Dave & i took off from his parents’ place in the forenoon on Boxing Day and drove the six hours to Quebec City. by ourselves, just the two of us. Oscar stayed with his doting grandparents, who, in thus providing us with fifty-three hours of uninterrupted, non-working, non-nap-scheduled time, gave us the very best post-Christmas present ever. we spent two nights and one whole wondrous day wandering around historical, atmospheric Vieux Quebec, which we’ve both been to but not for a decade and never together. we checked out museums and architecture and boxing day sales and as many restaurants and cafes as we could humanly manage, all while gentle snow fell. we even rode the Funiculaire, the almost 130-year-old elevator rail line that scales the old city walls. we walked more than we’ve walked in months, cumulatively. for that matter, we got a lot more exercise in a myriad of ways than we have in months, actually. ahem. i do love a king-size bed.
but the very most marvellous part of the whole trip for me, other than possibly the three ridiculously bone-chilling minutes i spent in the hotel’s not-nearly-heated-enough outdoor pool with snowdrifts blowing onto my nekkid neck while i dog-paddled around its circumference gawking at the city lights, was the drive. the road trip. the glorious adventure of being just two fools in a car with gas, coffee, and a pile of cds. oh, and Grandpapa’s borrowed GPS, which admittedly took some of the terror out of my attempt to actually drive into the city myself without panicking and throwing myself into the Saint Lawrence when confronted with seventeen different off-ramps at once.
in the nearly three years since Dave and i shed our expatriate backpacks and became settled, pregnant-and-or-parenting dwellers of my smallish hometown, we’ve driven a lot. to exactly two destinations – his parents’ house in northern New Brunswick, about four and a half hours away, and his sister’s house and/or the IWK hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a shorter trip by about an hour. the landscape on each road has become so familiar that new potholes are noteworthy, but overall, it’s monotonous, destination-focused travel, the stuff of survival. we load the car with sippy cups and diapers and try to time our drives for optimum napping. one of us usually ends up performing a puppet show from the front seat for part of the trip, whilst we debate whether the Velvet Underground really counts as lullaby music. it’s family travel. i love it, with all its labour-intensive cheer. but it is not – i repeat, NOT - a road trip.
Quebec was a road trip. we had a choice of routes to take, open road in front of us allowing options, freedom to flip a coin. neither of us had been on either highway in nearly ten years, so the low mountains and snow-capped woods were all a discovery, a fresh landscape, dotted with cheese shops and gas stations selling pain au chocolat. we could blast the stereo as loud as we liked, whenever we liked, or lapse into long, introspective silences just watching the expanse of forest wind away from the road. we could stop when we wanted, or not at all, and not once did i feel bad for failing to entertain Dave with a lively chorus of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, complete with hand clapping and nose beeping.
it was good. out on Highway 20 where the high road and the low road merge, i drove past ghosts of my younger self in different cars, spinning up and down the highway, a passenger in cars and lives that intersected with my own for a moment, or a season. spring break 1991 i hitch a ride with friends to a ski hill even though i cannot ski, half an ounce of hash on us as we cross from Quebec into the US. December 1992 and four girls in a beatup borrowed Volkswagen drive all night to a funeral for our roommate’s father, suddenly dead at fifty. summer 1993 and fall 1994 i take the train through these parts, running along the Saint Lawrence parallel to the highway, wild-hearted and broken here, riding the bar car to a new life in Vancouver there. August 1997, my honeymoon, spent mostly camping or visiting in-laws, with one memorable night in a hotel so skanky the only furniture in the room other than the bed was a bench seat from a car, bolted into the concrete floor.
i saw Dave too, on his way to Neil Young concerts and the Lilith Fair and probably countless other trips i don’t know about or have forgotten the tales he once regaled me with. i heard him, in the cds we played, the full collection of neglected oldies and burnt mixes from the Napster heyday. i heard us laughing at 3 am, back in Korea in the early, early days of our romance, drunk on bad wine and each other, sharing tunes from our respective formative years, convinced that a mutual taste in Kris Kristofferson had to be some kinda sign.
the familiarity and yet the novelty of it, all this silly road trip freedom, made us giddy…and filled us, reaffirmed us, in a way that a hundred days at home couldn’t have. i felt all those fragments of foundation and vagabond days as a gift, a reminder that life has not always been Elmo and organized overpacking. i felt twenty, and twenty-five, and thirty all collapse in on me, rejuvenating this almost thirty-six. i felt like a friend and partner, and like myself, all my selves, all carried within. i put my feet up on the dash and revelled in the joy of selfishness, all the way there.
and most of the way home. until we got about two hours away, at which point we two overgrown wish-we’d-been-Deadheads began to long aloud for the little boy we hadn’t seen in two days, and then the game was up.
Oscar’s smile met us at the door. i saw nothing more beautiful in Quebec City, nor in all the years i rambled.
but his parents brought back deeper, more rested, connected smiles to him…and so the trip was a raging success. tomorrow, we drive the rest of the way home from Grandmaman & Grandpapa’s, a family ride, fully stocked and carefully timed. i think we will try to teach Oscar some Iggy Pop tunes along the way.