Monday, September 04, 2006

Our Lady of Perpetual Adolescence

In a refreshing change, the drive to Flagstaff was much more of an ordeal than the visit itself. We actually had a very pleasant time with the folks. The trip up there, unfortunately, joins the annals of Travel Disasters on I-17. Several years ago--my first trip up there, in fact, after my dad had moved from Illinois--we were delayed for a few hours by a minivan hauling a trailer that flipped on the winding, windy stretch of road south of Black Canyon City. It's an unpopulated area of desert mountains with no frontage roads, alternate routes, or easy access to services, so when you're stuck there, you're stuck. It's why you never travel without a couple of gallons of water, even for a routine 4-hour-drive up the hill.

Friday, of course, was the start of the three-day weekend, so traffic sucked even before we got out of Tucson. We'd made it to north Phoenix when the interstate message boards flashed the warning that a crash at Sunset Point (near Black Canyon City) had closed both northbound lanes, backing traffic up over 20 miles to Anthem (godforsaken Pulte insta-city development just north of Phoenix). It was 6 pm at this point and still ungodly hot. I weighed the options for no more than a minute before deciding to divert to the west, approaching Flagstaff via Prescott and Sedona. Looking at the map, I guessed it might add an hour to the trip, but at least I'd be moving rather than sitting and roasting on the highway.

Note to self: sitting and roasting might be preferable to trying to drive through freaking Sun City at 6:30 on a Friday. Christ on a Triscuit. We crawled and sweated and finally made it to Surprise, then Wickenburg (alarmingly full of Len Munsil for Governor placards), and eventually Prescott. I have decided that when I publish an atlas, I will color-code the roads according to average speed limit. The reassuringly short linear distance from Prescott to Sedona to Flagstaff is, in reality, spanned by a road that twists up and down several mountains via no fewer than seven bezillion switchbacks.

I might have averaged 20 miles an hour. The clock marched along merrily; the odometer sullenly refused to budge. 9:30, 10:30, 11:00. The small patches of sky visible through the pine canopy were pitch black and occasionally illuminated by distant lightning; for the most part I was driving on an unfamiliar road in a very small bubble lit by my headlights in front and closing to nothing behind. Dark, twisting, dark, brake, dark, hairpin curve, dark, accelerate, dark, 20 minutes gone, 5 miles traveled, the litany starting in my head, fuckinfuckFUCKfuckwherethefuckarewe?

As it got later and traffic fell off to nothing but me, the constant curves provided enough stimulation to keep me awake and functional, but the weirdness of it all started to play with my brain. Maybe we were the wreck on I-17 after all, I thought, and now while my dad waits for us we're driving around in Purgatory for the next bit of forever before the universe decides whether to spit us up or down. Maybe we're driving on a giant cosmic treadmill. Maybe that isn't ponderosa pine and wood smoke I'm smelling, but incense. Are we dead? Have we really been driving forever? What the fuck?

Then a cop pulled me over outside Jerome for a busted license plate light. Apparently we weren't dead after all, or the dead bulb was a metaphor for minimal karmic transgressions, and we got to Flag alive, if tired, at 11:30.

It occurred to me on the (mercifully uneventful) drive home that these visits are somehow juvenilizing. I don't know if that's a real word. If it is, it encompasses me going to Dad's house and barely noticing that it's twice the size of my house and filled with real wood floors, fine tilework, matched furniture, lots of tools. This doesn't register with me much more than the blue sky does, because it's always been that way. He picks up the tab at the pool hall and at the restaurant because that's what dads do. We walk down to my uncle's house, which is even bigger than Dad's, and while I marvel at the new addition he's built, some part of my brain kicks in to tell me that this is the natural order of things.

I'm up there with my kid, but, for whatever reason, this doesn't make me feel like more of an adult. We sit obediently side-by-side at the counter while the folks serve up breakfast and ask if we'd like more eggs, we carry our plates to the sink and brush up our crumbs. Maybe it's because my partner's not there; her presence might have jolted me into some vague recognition that I'm not the same little kid on the same visit I've always made...

It isn't until I pull away from his house that I wonder why I don't feel any more grownup when I'm up there. It isn't a resentful thing; I don't feel like I'm being treated like a child. It's simply that our relative status hasn't changed that much. I have maybe 25 bucks in my pocket and not much more in the bank to last the week. He slips me money to pay for the new starter I had to put in the truck last week. I come home, buy groceries, figure out what I can cook to last a few days, what I can send with the kid for lunch. I wonder if I will ever feel like an equal to my father and his brothers, or if I will always be the overgrown kid waiting for full adulthood to somehow magically happen.

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