Late Covid American Sojourn: Day 18

In the morning everyone was excited. “We’re going to actually be HOME today!” Wyatt exclaimed as we packed up our things in the Tucson Airbnb — the last one we’d be staying in for a long, long time. Soon, no more Airbnbs, no more takeout meals, no more checking the tires, oil, coolant, filling the tank, no more googling the NPR frequency in Miami, Mobile, Baton Rouge, Houston, El Paso, Deming, Phoenix. And, maybe best of all, no more damn Red Bull. “I swear I’m never going to have another Red Bull as long as I live,” Andrea said.

We stopped by a trusted deli from my Tucson days, Time Market, loaded up on breakfast sandwiches and coffee, checked the bike rack, loaded up the bikes we had stashed in our desert Airbnb, and, finally, got on the road for one last day.

I knew this road. From the Saguaro forest of the Tucson Mountains, west to Picacho Peak, visible for nearly 30 miles in either direction — its needle protruding like a finger from a mitten. Then Phoenix, endless Phoenix, seems like it took up half the journey — “LA without the culture,” Andrea remarked. And finally Buckeye, and the westbound interstate road went from six lanes to five, then three, then two, and we were pushing through the harsh yellow light of the Mohave at midday. The interstate mile markers, when you’re heading south or west, tell you how many miles until the state line. Now we were a hundred miles from California. Andrea put on John Denver. We sang together.

I hear her voice in the morning hour, she calls me

The radio reminds me of my home far away

Driving down the road, I get a feeling

That I should’ve been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong…

It felt momentous. Nearly three weeks earlier, we’d decided it was too risky for Andrea to fly from out-of-control California, LAX in particular, and that instead, we’d drive all the way to Miami and back to bring Wyatt home — across eight states and back, nearly six thousand miles. At one point, near San Antonio, I got a message from USC that I was eligible for the Covid vaccine, and we briefly considered turning around. But we pressed on. From the “Christmas Star” of Jupiter and Saturn over the Sonoran Desert, to the white sands of New Mexico; from the Rio Grande to the Texas Hill Country; from my brother’s welcome in Austin to the bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi, the fashionistas of Miami Beach, and all the way back again — fueled by street tacos, ribs, shrimp and grits, soft-shell poboys, Cajun redfish, and way, way, too many Red Bulls, we were nearly back home.

Andrea drove us into California. At Blythe we switched drivers and I pointed us the rest of the way. We passed the first exit to Joshua Tree, then saw the snow on the mountain at Idyllwild, and beyond, the white-domed Mt. Baldy. Getting so close. Now the road split, we took the 10, then the 215 to the 210 — only in California are highways so named — and now we started seeing signs to Pasadena. Azusa now, Sierra Madre, Altadena exit, California 2 north, and our exit, Mountain.

We rolled down the windows, passed the long green expanse of Verdugo Park, turned left into the Woodlands. We were alert, our faces bright, eyes wide. I took it slow. By now Rascal could smell where we were. He jumped on my lap as I drove, perched his front paws at the base of the driver’s window, mouth open in a smile, tail wagging furiously.

“We’re home, Rascal,” Andrea said.

And so we were.

Home.

Home. Friday morning, February 5

Late Covid American Sojourn: Day 17

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