Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August 16, 2016--Midcoast: Driving Alone

It's only August 16th so how come the summer season has fewer than two weeks to go?

Not the astronomical summer, which ends on September 22nd at 10:21 A.M. EDT, or the old summer-vacation summer that spans Memorial Day and Labor Day, but the summer that ends when it's time for kids to go back to school.

That summer this year ends as early as August 23rd. Actually, cousins in Florida are already back in school. But summer in Florida is different--it's always summer there.

The beginning of the end of this latter version of summer is palpable here in Maine.

Stores and especially restaurants that depend on high school and college students to wait tables and work checkout counters are worrying about how to keep going when in a week or two their summer employees will be heading out. Help Wanted signs are everywhere and our favorite restaurant, Coveside in Christmas Cove, will soon be scaling back on the number of days they will be open during their version of the shoulder season.

The deeply-wired part of me that begins to get a knot in my stomach as the beginning of the new school year approaches (even though I haven't been in a school in more than 50 years) is not something I look forward to so early in the year--all my schools followed the old-fashioned calendar, ending for the summer on or about June 30th and not reopening until at least a week after Labor Day. That still determines the setting of my internal clock.

But then I like it when the summer people and outside visitors begin to depart as I love the quiet, the solitude that descends as suddenly at the late-summer sun.

In fact, just looking at the houses and cabins along out hardscrabble road shows evidence that the season is at the beginning of the beginning of the end.

Whereas last week three of the cabins had four cars in their driveways, as of Monday morning one cottage appeared to be already shut down and the two others had just one car parked.

Rona said, "I like it when there aren't so many cars in sight. The rural feeling returns."

"Me too," I said, "But I was struck this year that there were more cars than usual. In fact, when Mark Prior stopped by last week he said it looked like a campsite."

"Particularly how Jan's cabin was dwarfed by four huge cars."

"Four people, four cars," I said, "Of the same family of four that has been renting it for more than 20 years. Two parents and two grown sons. All very nice people."

"Ten years ago when they arrived there was only one car, then a few years later two, and now four. Their sons are not only old enough to drive but have cars of their own. Everyone has a car. And each of them drove all the way from Massachusetts."

"I suppose it enables them to do whatever they want. To not feel pressure to do the same thing. To be independent. If one wants to go out for breakfast, he has a car. If another wants to sleep in, he can while the other three do whatever."

"Progress, I suppose," Rona said, not meaning it.

I shrugged, "It's their America."

"Though not cost free."

"I agree. I know I'm prone to be nostalgic, but I think that families where everyone has a car are missing something."

"I know what you mean--they miss driving together."

"One of my favorite memories is of when my whole family would pile into the car and my father, who was very good at this, wandered around, seeking new streets and roads to drive down, hoping to come upon unanticipated things. Including getting lost. Especially getting lost. He loved that. And how as a foursome we would figure out how to find our way again. Speak about metaphors."

"I wish my family had done more of that," Rona said, "When we did it was lots of fun. One of the few things we did together, out of the house, as a family, that I enjoyed. Though we always got lost and that made my father nervous. He wasn't into adventure of that kind. I guess these days it would be thought of as a 'bonding experience.'"

"For our wanderings," I remembered, "we provisioned ourselves, taking along a stack of sandwiches and cold drinks. Always including a couple of bottles of seltzer in those old-fashioned siphon bottles. That was my responsibility--to make sure we had enough seltzer. As if if we really got lost for days it would sustain us."

"It was Jewish champagne," Rona said.

"In truth, we never really got lost but pretended to. To create excitement out of relatively simple things. It also allowed us to try out different family roles. I was the provisioner, my brother the map reader as he had an exceptional sense of direction, and my mother, fulfilling a stereotype, was the official worrier. My father of course was the fearless leader ultimately on whom we all could depend. And, regardless of the challenges, would bring us through safely."

"I can see that," Rona said. "But today, with everyone having their own car none of this is possible. It could be another form of alienation. How too many people are missing the opportunity to find affiliation."

"Like how Putnam's 'bowling alone' now also includes driving alone. And how compounded with the pervasiveness of social media so much gets missed."

"Maybe at least while doing all this solo driving they at least have books on tape."

"I guess, but that too is not my favorite thing," I said, "I prefer being responsible for my own version of the sound of the text. But don't get me started on that."

"I'm even sorry to have brought up the cars business."

"Me too. But I do like it with fewer cars around. It would be even better," Rona said, "if you were less grumpy."

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