Sunday, December 29, 2013

The pieces left behind

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bright sunlight flooded the road ahead on this post Christmas trip of Scranton – the mp3 player filling the car with memories from a time I didn’t intend to recall but could not help: Crosby, Stills, Nash; The Beatles; Elton John, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
Each of these things brings back images like the week of Top 40 hits CBS used to play every Saturday night – one week’s songs so vivid I stood on the railroad bridge again as I had at 16 with the plastic portable radio pressed against my ear.
This trip was like a trip I took nearly 40 years ago when I went to see my still-infant kid with Hank and Garrick – each song some song we would have sung along to during the two hour 100-mile trip between Montclair and Scranton.
But Scranton had grown with images more recent and so each mile is imbued with new, added meanings that tumble through my head as I drive, the music, the mood, the passing scenes like a flashback.
The leaves, just turning during my last trip, have been stripped from the trees so that on either side of the road the branches reach towards the sky like outstretched hands, the fingers pleading with the gods for some grace to be reborn when the cold eases and spring comes again.
Although the air had a chill, the temperature was above normal for the Jersey part of the trip, and only when the car got near water – Pine Brook and its always flooded woods (and Hank’s old warehouse), and snow showing nearer to the Delaware Water Gap.
As is the case these days after too much coffee at home, I needed the rest stop at the Gap, not just to use the port-a-johns, but also to gaze at the break in the mountains and feel as I always feel when I am there: humbled and insignificant amid the majesty of the natural world. Ice floated down the river, and snow showed here and there along the shore.
Someone’s German Shepherd ran up to me to sniff my heals before being healed by its master and before I went on, crossing the real and imaginary boundary between my life in Jersey and that other, dream-life on the other side – a life that is both past and future at the same time, filled with images of things accomplished and things yet to be done.
Traffic grew thick and finally to a standstill near The Crossing Mall reminding me of the holiday madness that grips people and stirs up their herding instincts.
The music got less distinct as the mountains filled my ears with that bubble it took miles to pop. So by the time the car rolled along the ridge of the Poconos on Route 380 I was almost deaf, and felt even more dream-like, except for the nagging gas gauge that told me in no uncertain terms that I would not reach Scranton if I failed to find gas – and eventually pulled off an exit early to satisfy that hunger.
But this road like the previous road carried a back-breaking load of memories, sad and happy, but mostly nostalgic – missing people in my life that had come connection to this part of the planet – this road and the next which is a ribbon road going down into the heart of the city – the path I had taken to Scranton since my first visit in 1971.
My newborn child, my then girlfriend and soon to be wife, and a large box-like vehicle filled with out possessions heading west like Okkies pilgrims fleeing not a farm dust bowl, but a dust bowl of post hippie Greenwich Village where junkies had replaced troubadours and despair had replaced great dreams.
In Scranton, this time, my daughter talked about the place of her birth in less than glowing terms, saying how the village was no longer the village, and that the era that have given rise to great inspiration had become a wasteland of wealth – rich people without manners or culture making the junkie era look attractive, even though the cold water flats we lived in back then, had heat and new paint today.
My daughter and ex-wife greeted me with presents I had not had time to buy for them, due to lack of time and several weeks of illness – the hectic pace of this life not at all what I had expected in anticipating closing in on retirement.
The scary part was that my daughter like my best friend years ago looked ahead towards retirement as if it was something other than what the British call “Waiting for God.”  People who put off their dreams to old age rarely live to see them realized, but I kept this last bit to myself, taking my daughter to the local mall to buy presents that would come wrapped in packing paper, not bows, and then to dinner at an over priced and over rated fish food place before making our way back to her house for good byes a few hours later.
The return from Scranton is always painful because each time I drive home I leave a piece of myself behind, and there will be a point – not far from now – when more of me remains there than what I carry away.
The trip home always comes with the added burden of traffic, and life that grows more and more hectic as the miles shrink, and this case, an accident near Route 3, forced me to divert from the usual pattern and take another route for the last lap, coming home exhausted and somewhat sad.

I guess the rain that we expect here in Jersey City today will fit my mood.

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