Is the Journey the Destination When You’re Stuck in Traffic?

The first leg of the trip was easy – all night driving, beautiful sunsets, peaceful kids in pajamas, happy with DVD players and iPads on laps and healthy snacks and only one stop for gas and drinks.

By the time we got to Joliet, Illinois, Shaya had been asleep for a half-hour and the night was dark as coal. We ambled into the hotel and crashed upon the bedsheets, only to toss through the night in the discomfort of unfamiliar surroundings.

But still. By the time the dawn hit, we were still eager for the adventure and happy to be together.

And then we hit the interstate 55 toward Edwardsville. Perhaps it’s because we knew we had less terrain to cover today, and it was a straight shot, and we were so excited to get there, it has taken forever.

Maybe it’s the fact that I couldn’t find good coffee. The cookie-cutter Hampton Inn had none that I wanted and so I waited for the familiar franchise signs along the highway  to get myself a wakeup call in a paper cup.

First stop: the ’50s Diner in a 4,300-population town, where the giant styrofoam cup of dark watery liquid and non-dairy creamer packs (Non-dairy? Really? In Illinois?) was barely drinkable. Dan downed his. I ducked into the gas station store to buy cup #2, which was not any better.

Then we stopped a few exits down at a Mickey D’s and for this part of the story, you need some background.

“Do you really want to deal with him?” Dan’s eyes angled toward Asher.

“I’ll deal with it. It’s just coffee.”


And then my son’s voice from the backseat.

“Why would you give them business? Why would you support a company that supports animal cruelty?”

“I just want a cup of coffee,” I said. “No animals were harmed in creating that cup of coffee.”

“That’s not the point,” said my 10-year-old. “It’s the principle of it. I wouldn’t give the company any business at all.”

A good point, I had to say, and I was soothingly proud of my son, but damn I wanted coffee. We whisked through the drive-thru, which was pasted in red branded paper so we couldn’t peer in the window. A fat woman with a ring in her nose and a red visor with a  yellow M opened the window and leaned out to collect our money. Then came the coffee. Garbage. I could barely drink it.

Now is the point when you think I am a coffee snob and just being difficult and you may very well be right. But that’s not the point of this story.

I never did get a decent cup of coffee today though I did succeed in meditating for 20 minutes in the front seat of the car. I remember marveling at a woman at the Hampton Inn with three chins and trouble walking who made a beeline for the platter of frosted donuts and I thought, “We wonder why this country has problems. It’s all in the choices we make.”

After I bought the dreadful coffee from the conglomerate that built a global business out of inhumanity, my son and I engaged in a conversation about the point of it all. I challenged that perhaps he’d want to take a closer look at the foods he eats and their origins and he said he would. I realized quite quickly what a waste it had been of time and money and rhetoric to get that damn cup of coffee.

We are still on the road. Bruce Springsteen is on the radio, singing about being on fire. I’ve banned the electronics for the rest of the ride. My brother’s family is waiting for us at a park, where they are celebrating the end of their children’s preschool year. We may not get there in time for hot dogs.

But when we are in the pool later this afternoon, all smiles and popsicles and cousins jumping in with leaps of pleasure, the details of this long, arduous drive with a slow crawl around Litchfield, will all be insignificant.

That’s the thing about life. What seems so majorly important at the moment really isn’t. It’s like the way the ocean swells and crests and settles once again. Down at the bottom of the depths, there is little change. It’s on the surface that things roil and toss and cause havoc and inspire fear.

Shaya’s reading a book. Asher wants to look at it. Shaya won’t let him and Asher is so impassioned. In 5 minutes, Shaya will put down the book and Asher will pick it up and in an hour, they won’t even remember what book they were reading anyway.

Enjoy your day.

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