The Road Back Goes Only One Way: Forward

There’s nothing like being stuck in traffic to allow time to think through your life. At age seventy-seven, I have plenty to think through. And inching along with traffic in the Seattle area gave me plenty of time. Seattle traffic ranks only the fourteenth worst in the nation (Boston is first). Still, INRIX, a transportation data firm, claims traffic slowdowns cost every man, woman, and child in Seattle seventy-four hours per year. 

Even though I loved living and working in the Seattle area for many years, I’m now a confirmed eastern Washingtonian, thoroughly adapted to rural roads where we slow down because we WANT to. Or because there’s a cow on the road. 

A quiet moment between RVs on the North Cascade Highway

But it was time to emerge from my Covid cocoon. I’d probably still be sequestered had I not been invited to speak at a memorial celebration for a friend in Bellingham. That  required driving over one of the nation’s most scenic mountain routes, the North Cascades Highway. I first chugged along that route in 1974 in a Volkswagen bug. It was the day before the highway, which is closed in winter, was to open for the summer. As a young reporter, I’d wrangled a pass from a highway department official, who drove behind me in his state truck. 

Just imagine cruising along that glorious road with increasingly spectacular mountain crests emerging behind every curve! I didn’t have to pull over to take photos. I’d just stop in the middle of the highway, get out of the car, and start shooting. I’ve driven the North Cascades many times since, but memories of that first trip stay with me. Especially when I’m following a string of view-blocking mega RVs. Or when the scenic pull-outs are so jammed with vehicles and people, you can’t find a place to park. So it was that Friday before Father’s Day, when hundreds, no, thousands of folks were breaking loose the bonds of Covid isolation.

From Bellingham, I decided to continue south to visit friends and family who live at various places along Washington’s Interstate-5 corridor. It seemed as if every milepost held a memory: places I’d visited long ago, events I’d covered, people I knew who no longer are in my life. It was all so familiar, yet everything, everything was different. Small towns have grown into urban centers, city limits bumping into each other. 

Even the freeway is different — more lanes, alternative routes, expressways. A digital sign told me I could take the express lane and pay seventy-five cents to get somewhere (nowhere?) two minutes faster. Now there’s a sign for our times.

None of this was surprising. It’s just a jolt when we’re remembering how things were and confronting how things are. That familiar longing for how things used to be and can’t ever be again. It’s apparent that post-Covid, life will never again be as it was. There’s no return to whatever we think was “normal.”

My father had a wise response when people longed for “the good old days.” 

“Yeah,” he’d chuckle. “Formerly  known as ‘these trying times.’”