Choo-kah, choo-kah, choo-kah.
“Great,” my dad, a captain losing his crew, mutters into his lap.
I take a quick slug from Genesee, as if I were a diver looking for oxygen. I puff my cheeks, and the liquid warms in my mouth. Weightless bubbles are everywhere. The amber liquid dissolves the knot in the stomach and I notice the beer’s message. It’s a universal truth that King Solomon, Abraham Lincoln and Edward FitzGerald have all credited: This too shall be. Life doesn’t seem so bad ,, I tell myself. You are in a car driving nowhere with your favourite people on earth . My fungal haircut, the blinking blue dot and the starry night sky are all part of my experience. I feel the warmth of hope in my hand as I hold a can of cheddar-flavored Pringles that my brother just opened. It’s all enough .
The first road soda takes away the edge. My senses become dull and the world around me feels a little blurred. It’s like eating cheese and crackers when starving. My dad, who hasn’t had any other than water and Advil for the past three years, finally righted our course and demoted my brother to first man. He then starts the engine.
Beer 2 gives me life. I have so much energy! Is this the song? Can you crank it up? Cat Stevens croons, “Just relax, and take it slowly.” The Maps man says, “Take your next left.” I feel at ease, resting my head on Mum’s shoulder. I laugh at nothing. I bring the can to my lips, then lower it again. I’m light. Vaporous. Vaporous. Was there anything you needed? Sorry, Ali is not here.
” If you could invite anyone to dinner (dead or alive), who would it? My brother’s girlfriend looks at the car.
” “Probably Nelson Mandela,” Dad says. Then, after a pause: “Or Shania Twain.”
“Shania? I squawk.
“Wow,” I squawk, as my brother grabs for the phone with the glowing dash.
Mum begins to say something, but it’s overpowered by a loud voice singing: “Let’s go girls.” At that point, everyone starts belting out the first verse.
Here is the thing that I have learned about family vacations: The fantasy of a picture perfect reunion (everyone has fun and there are no problems) It can be difficult to truly feel present with one another when the reality of travel is so overwhelming (life is complex and we go through things). This is why we travel the world to meet up. Getting lost and waylaid, being hangry enough to eat a seatbelt, and spiraling about our issues outside the car is all part of the journey–and dismissing those imperfect realities is what pushes us further apart.
As I drink, I feel fully present in the now. My family is brave, resilient and hurting from the constant pangs of distance. We all grasp for the unit like trapeze artists with sweaty palms. They appear like far-off moons, radiant, preposterous and perfect. Their glow makes me less interested in fantasy. I will take their highs and their lows. This is a weird-ass vacation. To be clear, I am not advocating breaking any laws against passengers drunk in cars. Meditation is an alternative if you are not in an area that allows passenger drinking. )
After beer two, it ends. Road sodas are not about excessive consumption. We arrive. As my dad pushes the Corolla onto the driveway, the porch lights from our Airbnb twinkle as we arrive. We lost, but now we’re found. Cracking beers in the backseat can seem juvenile. Yet, it is a wise thing to try and see your loved ones, no matter how far they may be.