Peter Francis May

On the Road Again

So, I’m at my dentist’s, sitting in the chair. He’s not there yet but his assistant is buzzing around the room prepping; young lady, mid 20’s, in scrubs, very professional, very focused. Just the two of us so I did what I always do, start talking, asking her questions. She’s kinda quiet at first but she opens up. I learn that her name is Maria, she’s a young mother, two kids, from a big family, very tight-knit family but most don’t live around here. Her sister, who she’s closest with, lives in Texas. Also a young mother. They’re driving down to Texas in July to visit.

My wife has a sister down in Texas and I know it’s hard for her, not being able to see her sister more often. So, I said, “It must be difficult living so far apart.” And she said yeah but “We live in an apartment right on the interstate and my sister does too. So, it’s like we live on the same street!” And I thought, “Maria is an optimist. She looks on the bright side.”

Because that’s what you do, right? Listen to people, learn about them and begin to paint a picture. Fill in the blanks. So the picture I’m painting is a young family. Just starting out. They live in an apartment right on the interstate because that’s cheap real estate. They can’t afford the suburbs yet. And they’re driving down to Texas for the only reason any sane person would drive to Texas in July; because they can’t afford to fly.

I can relate, right. When we were young my parents didn’t have any money so vacation meant packing all six of us and the dog in the car and doing crazy long drives. New York to Florida. 27 hours non-stop, eating PB&J sandwiches my mother packed. Dad’s not stopping unless at least three of us have to pee. So I commiserate. “Texas in July. It’s going to be a long, hot, sticky drive. Are you dreading it?”

That flipped Maria’s switch. She is looking forward to this ride like it’s “Space Mountain!” She loves highways! She finds the sounds of passing cars comforting. That’s why she lives on the interstate! She tells me that when she was a child her family lived in their car – not like, “We practically LIVED in our car!” No, they literally lived in their car – driving around so her father and mother could find farm work. But the way she remembers the long drives are hours spent together; playing games, talking, reading, singing, looking out the window. She tells me that they’d sleep at rest areas. In the winter, when they had money for gas they’d run the car to keep warm. When they didn’t, they’d split up, boys and girls, all wrapped in blankets and they’d sleep in the rest area bathrooms. I’m listening speechless. Y’know? That story took an unexpected turn.

The dentist came in and that was the end of our conversation. Haven’t seem Maria since but, this is like two years later; I still think about her and I feel the emotion behind the simple facts of her story. Sadness for the vulnerable little girl sleeping in a public restroom. Respect for what her family accomplished. Happiness for grown up Maria and her sister down in Texas. And a renewed commitment to connect; to ask questions and enjoy the answers.