Kev sends me a text, “listen to this song when you get a chance.” I feel it might be heavy, so I put it off until I head to bed. It’s a song called “Darling Be Home Soon,” and three chords in it hit me like a ton of bricks. I sit in my bed, bawling as Joe Cocker’s voice trembles and quivers in my ears with raw emotion to match mine. The backup singers balance it all out with the perfect amount of soul, and I can’t help but smile as I crumble.
The song transports me back to the feels and memories of my Sunday drives with Dad.
We’ve done this drive so often; I’m confident he could do it with his eyes closed. Daddy lets the car coast in neutral on the down slopes; we wait with wide eyes and smiles to see how far the momentum will take us. I dance my hands through the open window air, the sun, as it sets, paints the world a magical hue, hills roll by, and unforgettable tunes spill from the speakers. I hold out hope that the road will never end.
We turn onto a quiet country road, the last turn before Mom’s apartment building, and I ask him to stop at the crest of the hill. We watch the sun sink below the horizon. He leaves the car running while we say our goodbyes; I watch him drive away.
The Sunday blues wash over me as I open the door to greet Mom.
On longer road trips, I usually exhaust all of the patience of my fellow car dwellers’. When I have nothing more to say, I rest my head on the window and fix my gaze on a guardrail or a power line.
My eyes drift slightly out of focus, the way one does when trying to make a magic-eye poster appear. Eventually, the lines fall into a dance; they undulate and intertwine in a seamless flow. The guardrails slither along with smooth rises and falls. These animations vary in length and intensity, often ending abruptly but always promising an esthetically pleasing performance.
The roads are my freedom, and the car, my loyal friend. I get my license as soon as the law allows. If my 1991 Mazda 626 could talk, she’d divulge incriminating secrets. I drive for the catharsis of it, for the music, the cigarettes, the downshifts, and the apexes. My thinking twists and turns back on itself like the country roads I navigate with mindless ease. The scattered playlists burned onto compact discs weigh down my visor and fuel my angst. My tendency to overthink everything propels me to stay lost on back roads, my happy place.
I’ll always prefer the drive over the destination.
Be home soon, darling.
I’m taking a shuttle from Reading to Philly. Dad and I say our bittersweet goodbyes, and I jump out of one van and into the next. I sit shotgun next to a balding middle-aged man named Tim. I’m expecting to fill this short trip with a phone call, but I quickly realize that I’ll spend it getting to know my co-pilot.
Tim is relaxed, easy-going, and slightly guarded. Unlike myself and most of my family, Tim is not a speeder. With no sense of urgency, he creates a comfy ride. We discuss my destination. I explain that my Soul Sister, Bestie invited me on an adventure in Italy. I had turned her down in college when she offered me free room and board overseas; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity a second time around. I tell him of my plans to visit the town where Dad was born. Tim inquires, so I give him a brief history of how Dad’s family immigrated from Italy and settled in America. Inevitably, we land on my family’s restaurant, the Temple Hotel, and as I’ve heard so many times before, Tim says,
“Oh, you’re dad is Perry! I know Perry.”
Tim’s connection to Dad is through his late father, Tom. His father worked the third shift at a local factory, and he often found solace at my family’s restaurant. After working into the wee hours of the morning, Tom and “the boys” would shoot pool, play shuffleboard, and drink their worries away.
Tim is in mid-story when my phone rings. With uncanny timing, it’s Dad. After his concerned parental advice, I ask if he remembers Tim’s father. He sifts through his memory as Tim eagerly awaits the answer. After 30 seconds, Dad lands on it,
“OH YEA, Tommy! I remember him; he worked the third shift. I played pool with him. He died young, didn’t he?”
I relay Dad’s reply; Tim smiles with a nod. We all share the same sentiment of how small the world is; I send my love and hang up the phone.
Having lost his dad at the age of 16, I can tell Tim is touched by this connection. I wonder if he is picturing our fathers playing pool together back in the day, as I am, or wondering how their children, thirty-some-odd years later, have found themselves sitting in a van together.
We fall quiet.
I soak up the sweet silence as we stare fondly ahead at the open road.
© Katie Pendergast 2021