Right now I see this in stages.
Phase One: Acclimation. Setting up in familial isolation. Here’s where my laptop will go. Here’s how to enter a Zoom meeting. Here are the ground rules for cohabitation. This’ll be OK.
Phase Two: Optimization. Here’s the list of things to accomplish, to learn, to do. Here’s our chance at real quality time together. Board games and watercolor painting. Here’s how we make the most of this opportunity. This is gonna be good.
Phase Three: Normalization. Here’s when the new routine becomes habitual, the inconveniences irritating, the solitude constricting. Working from home, strategic grocery shopping in a mask, kids on screens. This isn’t so fun anymore.
Phase Four: Demoralization. Can’t eat out, can’t see friends, can’t watch sports. The weather’s no good, the septic has failed, the pandemic is real and not ending any time soon. We’re gonna be here awhile and already I’m tired of it.
So on another grey, chill, wet and enclosed Saturday afternoon I told the kids (while their mother worked on a freelance project), “Let’s get outta here.”
“What?” they asked.
“Let’s go for a ride,” I said.
“Where?” they asked.
“For a ride,” I answered. “In the car.”
“Where?” they asked.
“We’re going for a ride,” I said. “We’re going cruising.”
“Can we play the radio?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said, “as loud as you want.”
So three teenagers and I got in the Subaru Forester, the one with the sun roof and full tank of cheap gas, and went for a ride. It was liberating.
We started out — no fooling — by driving past the kids’ high school, pulling into the parking lot they hadn’t seen in a month and going by the entrance where I picked her up after daily volleyball practice and dropped the boys off each morning for pre-school baseball workouts.
We went by the Farmer’s Market where the parking lots were empty — except for the pickups of the local farmers selling their produce to nobody there. We drove past old neighborhoods with new construction near downtown, past the Howard Park facelift and into downtown, past the minor league ballpark and out Western Avenue — through South Bend’s west side with all the billboards and signs in Spanish — then out by the airport and back through campus, past the brand-new Robinson Community Learning Center, which looked really great.
We drove past the place where the kids went to preschool and went past their elementary school, their middle school, where she ran track and they played baseball — and to the East Side ballpark and saw that a much-needed parking lot had been cut into the woods there. We sat there awhile and looked at the ball diamonds where we’d spent hours, commented how small they looked now.
Everywhere we drove the kids had stories to tell, friends to remember, memories to retrieve, recount and laugh about. The things they remembered, the places they’d been.
We got out of the house, but we were all still together. We were confined to the car, but traveled far and wide, backward in time, seeing things in different ways.
So I told them about how, as 16-year-olds, my friends and I couldn’t stand another Friday or Saturday night in our parents’ homes, so one of us would get the family car and we’d go cruising. Just to get out on our own. Out from under watchful eyes and into the fetching realm of nighttime possibility. Past the diner and the pizza place, maybe stop by the McDonalds parking lot, loop through the shopping center with the arcade, bowling alley and movie theater. Looking for other friends, looking for girls, driving around as a way to connect.
We were all in Catholic school, single-sex classrooms from seventh grade through high school. We didn’t know what we were doing. We’d maybe honk and wave; we never stopped to talk. But we had a blast, windows down, radio loud, being boys with nowhere to go, nothing to do — just head out Kings Highway to Youree Drive where the road became a two-lane out of town. Everything was funny then. Everything better than before. Inside jokes and lines made famous in the repetition, the teasing.
In class once, a couple of years ago, I talked about cruising — our weekend entertainment when I was young. The students didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. “You guys didn’t go cruising on Friday and Saturday nights?” They shook their heads; they seem puzzled by the appeal. “Haven’t you seen American Graffiti?” They didn’t know what I was talking about.
Maybe they cruise instead on phones these days, looking to connect that way.
Still, over the years, whenever I’d go home, once maybe twice a year to see my folks when they were living, I’d get in the car and drive alone down the old familiar pathways. Past the old familiar sights. My grade school and the nearby park, the house we once lived in, the old neighborhood, out Line Avenue where the electric trolley used to run, out past Bayou Pierre that used to be woods, where we’d walk across the wooden train trestle, then back by the Y where we’d play basketball and the baseball fields where I used to run down fly balls on spring and summer days.
It was later that night, after I had taken the kids cruising, that I saw on the local news that hundreds of vehicles had gone cruising the night before, grownups tired of being cooped up indoors, enough cars stopping in the shopping center parking lot that they were violating the rules for social distancing. It took the police 30 minutes to break it up. Not a protest, the cruisers said, just something to do to get out of the house.
I told the kids we’d go again. Maybe out in the country next time. They said great, maybe next time stop at DQ.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.