Realistically, my son’s elementary school is not that far from where I work. If I hop on the freeway, it’s about a ten minute drive. Five minutes later, we can be home and getting on with our evening activities.
But more afternoons than not, I choose to take the longer drive home.
This drive avoids the freeways, which means less cars on the road to give me that road rage I developed from learning to drive in California. It takes me up and through a few neighborhoods that don’t get much vehicle traffic, and it gives me an extra ten minutes of solitude.
The road curves around houses and I pick out the features I like the most. When I can finally be done with apartment living, I’ll choose a house with a porch. I like that color blue, but not this color brown. The door on that house is beautiful, but I love how this one has just a small front yard. What I really want is a big backyard. I like when some of them have their garages open and I can see more characteristics of the family inside. Sports memorabilia hung on the white plaster walls, maybe a trio of bicycles ready for another tour of the hills. One car or two, maybe only enough room for one to park away from the elements. A pool table, a dartboard, skis and snowboards, toys for every age until the child is grown, boxes upon boxes of memories stashed away.
The drive takes me past tree-lined streets backed by rolling hills that have turned brown as we prepare for the winter. But through this autumn I have watched the leaves on those trees change from lush green to brilliant red to dusty orange to crunchy piles that looked like they’d be fun to jump into.
Depending on my mood, I might blast classic rock & roll, the country I loved in the ’90s, or the local alternative station. But most of the time, the radio stays off. I roll my window down, even as the air gets chillier because my car often feels like it is suffocating me if the windows are all up, and let the sounds of the outer rim of the city sing to me. The occasional car drives by, the birds chirp, the wind rustles the leaves, dogs will bark, and I can hear each tread of the tire roll over the pavement below.
The neighborhood has little roundabouts to encourage drivers to slow down. I take it easy through and watch my speed. There’s a corner I bring the car around carefully because I know there’s a stop sign that could be easily missed if you aren’t paying attention. I stop, take my time looking out for bicyclists, pedestrians, or even another car, and then continue on my way. Up the hill, over the crest, and I can see roofs spread out beyond the horizon. I could stop my car and see into their backyards if I wanted to. More clues as to the families within the houses. Lots of grass, posh landscaping, pool, trampoline, toys and toys and toys, a barbecue, lawn chairs. But I don’t stop my car to observe. I continue on my way.
When I get to the school and see my son’s smiling face, my heart fills with joy and I’m so glad he is with me again.
But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying that extra time I steal to enjoy the scenery on the long drive home.