The Federal Government shutdown affects us all, as it turns out, even those of us who are more or less off the grid. We escaped New York with warm hearts having enjoyed to the fullest possible extent the wedding of our dear friends, Patricia and Freedome, and full bellies thank to a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Big Russian and his genuine Canadian bride, Jen, who for the occasion had even imported her Canadian parents.
For our part, we contributed an undrinkable bottle of zinfandel, some dirty laundry, and enough tools from the truck to assemble 82% of a play set for the kids.
With a quick stop in Brooklyn to enjoy the company of my sister and brother in law, and to grab a few items out of storage, we resumed our travels southward, this next long leg of travel loosely organized about the requirement of being in Tucson for Thanksgiving as both sets of grandparents intended to converge upon the girls and celebrate a pre-emptive Christmas.
To fill in the gaps we decided, despite the lateness of the season, to chance a stay at Assateague National Park, which featured the fine white sand beaches of the barrier islands off the Chesapeake, and more importantly, herds of free-roaming wild ponies that set the girls’ imaginations alight.
“Dad, are you saying that there are just ponies walking around all over the place at this campsite?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“Mom, is Dad lying to us again?”
Ah, but then the Federal Government stepped in and decided to not work.
Regardless of one’s political stripes, it is a remarkable thing to have this kind of brinksmanship (the kind of problem-solving behavior exhibited by an even number of four year olds who are staring at an odd number of cupcakes) erupt and halt the government in its tracks and further, cast an uncertain shadow over the payment of its debts.
That’s third world stuff, frankly, and well beneath this fine country.
For our part, it meant no National Parks, which was no small problem. Val and I had loosely connected a series of dots between various National Parks in our road atlas between New York and Tucson, and, perched at my sister’s kitchen table, began to triage our plans.
Maryland has a State Park directly next to the National Park at Assateague, so we figured we’d roll the dice and head over there rather than try to explain to the girls that the ponies, which had been dancing in their imaginations for a month or more (we had been reading Misty of Chincoteague to them at night) were now completely off the menu.
We drove down the Atlantic coast and Val and I discussed how good it felt to be back on the road. We had been fully recharged by seeing both friends and family at Patricia’s wedding (even The Hippo made it down at the last minute, and we conspired to get him to join us on our trip) and the girls had a chance to reconnect with their friends, albeit briefly, in Brooklyn.
I did too, although there were a thousand people I wanted badly to see, the brief nature of our stay and the number of loose ends to tie up meant I was limited to drinks one night with Z-Man and JP. It was great to see them, and, despite their making fun of my beard (which was fair, frankly, as it looks vaguely ridiculous with its streaks of grey) they were full of encouragement.
Which is more valuable than you might think, as there are a lot of opportunities to second-guess yourself when doing something like this, and you don’t want to be sitting down with two close friends, who are also professional peers, and have them shake you by the lapels and say “What the hell are you doing, man?”
The same was true of my second and final night in the city where, after loading up the truck and tracking down a small wiring issue and getting ready to leave for the wilds, I crept off to join Anton and The Monster for drinks and reminisces.
Again, tough to leave these close friends for so long, but both were full of encouragement and proxy excitement, and after the third or fourth round of drinks, I may well have had The Monster sold on the idea of getting a decent boat (he’s English, after all, so a true adventure can only happen if a sail is involved), loading his family into it, and meeting us off the coast of Mexico somewhere.
We spent the next morning letting the girls play their hearts out with their cousins, Malcolm and Lachlan, in the local playground. Sitting on a park bench in the unseasonably warm sunshine, drinking an honest coffee-shop latte and nibbling on a scone, watching the kids play and laugh and chase bubbles, saying hello to the other parents and engaging in small talk with them, all of these things were comfortable and made it tough to reconcile getting into the truck and driving three thousand miles to Tucson, and beyond.
But, Val reminded me, if we were living here I wouldn’t be doing any of this.
I would be at a desk somewhere, being made crazy by prices, numbers, decisions, non-decisions, documents, meetings, and emails.
I watched Sylvie and Leonie working with Malcolm to build a road from the sand pit to a nearby swing set and felt the truck’s keys in my pocket.
Time to go see some horses.