I was just laying there, a 49 year old version of Huck Finn. Stretched out in the tiny boat, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth instead of a long piece of grass and with my arm around my coffee maker instead of a fishing pole. Somewhere on the Mississippi (sounds better and easier to pronounce than the Schuylkill), just gently rocking in the soft, easy current on the side of the river with the boat anchored on the bank.
Not much to do or say. Not much to write. Just relax. Take in some sun. Take in the absence of things. The absence of things can be as powerful as the presence of things. The absence of a business partner who only wanted to be an employee. The absence of some piece of garbage with no honor or integrity that screwed me out of $35,000…
…think aloha, Chris, breath in aloha. Don’t go there, Chris. Just drift. Bob on the surface. “Keep a nice flow for your mom down in Philly…”
May he rot in…I know, Will Smith, I’ll listen to the song again. “Sometimes people mistake nice for soft,” but back to that boat…
Just bobbing. Relaxing. Taking in the sun. Aye: I was way ahead of all of you. I was supposed to be taking this year off. This is not quite how I planned it though. That first bump of wood on wood had me waking up a little bit. The bumping of the all the other boats got to me. Anybody want coffee? Will you people get back to work and your normal lives so I can gloat a little bit? Oh, you can’t?
And then I sat up, looked around me, and realized I was part of a massive flotilla. I knew what I was doing here but so many people didn’t. And a storm was coming, blackening the horizon. But I just laid back down again, lit another cigarette, and like the sun dreams of beach days, have time swiped away from me. The Great Detention of 2020 had begun.
Cause and effect: quickly on the heels of the Great Detention of 2020 was the Covid hibernation, where days turned into weeks and then turned into months, all meshed together. Time compressed. A day ending before you even knew it had begun. Not knowing if it was Saturday or Thursday. Every day, just a day ending in “day.”
“I’ve lived through a lot,” said one 97 year old woman in an elderly commuity. “The Great Depression and wars and riots and change. I saw a man land on the moon, old Tricky Dick forced to quit, and a host of other things. But this. This I have never seen. Not that I get to see much, being locked in this fucking room.”
With the storm coming, and more boats joining the flotilla, more voices and masks and people not wanting my coffee, I knew it was time. So I weighed anchor, casting off from the gentle current of the side of the river, to bump my way through the mass of boats. Some as simple as mine, some huge yachts, some just simple plastic tubs and everything in between.
We’re all in the same boat, I wrote. I was wrong. We’re all in the same flotilla is closer. Sleep, sleep, said Covid. Just nap for a few more months. And it’s hard not to heed it. I’ve lived through a lot as well, though not as much as that lady, but I ain’t never seen anything like this. My mind can’t wraparound it, can’t grasp the reality of it or the new reality it is creating. It’s as if the old ways are back, fight or flight. But with the inability to do neither, my mind just wants to submerge in the sunshine.
It was time to get into the quicker current. Time to take the tiller and steer my way into that center of the stream, to force myself into action. Or at least reaction. That storm is a coming, I knew, as I crossed from the lighter blue of the river’s edge into the deeper blue of the center, where things move faster. Maybe I could outrun the storm? Or maybe I could head into it? Maybe I could find someone who would like a cup of coffee?
Up through Pennsylvania. Safer waters. Childhood friends and things I knew, like the everlasting roadwork on the Northeast Extension. Something old, something new: Ricketts Glen State Park. A bustling corner store, on crossroads with nothing else on them, serving hoagies, trail mix and sodas to visitors. A bit more quiet than usual. Masks slipping down under noses. “I hate this damn mask.”
Something borrowed. Borrowed memories of cousins and cousins of cousins. I was there once. A long, long time ago. Upstate NY, after taking the wrong “north” and ending up 45 minutes from where I started after 4 hours. Who knew there could be so many norths?
Further north, up the byways and highways to Lake Placid. Home of the winter Olympics and the Miracle on Ice. Up along roads with rivers rushing along them into a small town nestled in the mountains. A different feel to the air and the sunshine. Empty streets, a closed museum, but knowing the forests are teeming with hikers. Rivers of cars parked along the road like a sandbar between the river the and the road.
But further north. A highway. Strange signs that I had never seen before. Montreal: 40 Miles. Unseen but known. At the border there will be a “forbidden” sign. For the safety of our people, you are not welcome. Go back to your virus infected land. I didn’t think my FOP card would do me any good with that and I wanted to head east anyway.
Into the blue, to finish the old saying. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The blue of Lake Champlain, the waters both reflecting the sunlight and soaking it in so it scintillates. Back down a highway after crossing into Vermont, knowing I missed something. Finding a hotel. Yes, I was essential personal. Didn’t you notice my “Live Aloha” mask? Aloha is essential during these times.
I would later find I was staying in the largest city in Vermont: Burlington. It just had the feel that it could fit into a suburb of Philly with room to spare. But I had missed something. So I headed east the following morning, by going Northwest. You sort of had to be there. I might never be there again, so with the morning sun and a full cup of coffee, I made the drive up through the islands on Lake Champlain that I had missed coming down. GPS can be fickle things. They don’t understand the current of the river. Yeah, that center path might get me there quicker, but quicker is not the point. So over bridges and a different type of sunlight to South Hero, then to Grand Isle and then to North Hero. Isle La Motte not too far away and then into Alburg and almost bumping into Canada again and the “keep your virus infected ass out of our country” unseen sign. But then finally east on a beer run.
Just rambling and memories for later on. Definitely not Pulitzer material, or even journalistic, but seeds to put into my collection to take them out and pot them when I get home to watch them grow into the memories I know them to be.
John Steinbeck, when first starting out, wrote about the immensity of the country and how could he ever hope to traverse it? My first two days had me thinking how small it was and why I had never been up here? In 1961, Steinbeck had road maps and atlases that showed the crisscrossing highways of an enormous country. I had GPS telling me it was only this many hours. And I was taking the long route.
10 hours and 35 minutes straight through if I chose. To my final destination. I have to find the other quote where he wrote about how you need a destination, even if you never make it there. But the quote everybody knows and uses is:
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.
It was just nice to be in the middle of the river again, with the anchor nestled in the boat. Prepared for temporary moorings, landfalls to make forays into America of today.