Wake up extremely early in the morning, before it gets light. Pack your car in the dark and listen carefully for the sound of bears (heavy breathing, forest rummaging, so on). Dwight Schrute would probably say that bears are more active at dawn, and maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not, but still, be on alert. Drive carefully down the mountainside and continue southeast. For a while, you’ll wind through the Smoky Mountains and your foot will gain a cramp. Watch for the sunrise in the east, over the mountains, throwing light and a color that does not yet have a name.
Stop at McDonalds for breakfast. Listen to the first season of Serial. Glance at the GPS and think: “Oh, only 167 miles to go on this road!” when in actuality that’s a long way. And then you turn and you’re looking at 300 miles straight south. Cross from Tennessee into Georgia into Florida and flirt with stopping at the rest area on the Florida state line where they serve orange and grapefruit juice. Decide, instead, that you’re making good time and keep on.
If you have family vacationing in Florida and you mean to surprise them with your presence, try not to imagine their response in your mind. They will be happy to see you, thrilled even, but whenever you envision a surprise you’re setting yourself up. Because reality never caters completely to your imagination. They are different worlds interacting with and influencing one another—communicating, lobbing images back and forth—but they are still homonyms. So when you get there and they just left for dinner and the surprise is pushed back another hour or so, spend time in that time. Let your anticipation sink slowly to the floor and be where you are. Because you’re in Florida on the beach.
At first, when you send pictures of the two of you near various hotspots on Anna Maria Island, your family will think you’ve suddenly become the world’s foremost photoshop master. They won’t believe you and they’ll text back things like lol or nice try or wut. They will try and determine the photo’s date by your haircut, and then finally demand that you send your location or it’s not true. At this point, you should smile. It is a surprise.
You may be getting hungry now. Twelve hours of driving, and you’ll need tacos. So, while the family is at dinner, walk to the closest restaurant with tacos. Ignore the teenaged host, who probably hates this Spring Break fueled week with floods of people and nonstop noise. Remember, you’re here for tacos.
Okay, pause here for a second.
So often we tell ourselves to live in the moment, or seize the day, or be present, or rest in the now. But what does that all mean? When we throw words like this at real moments and the physical step-it-out wonder of a day, do those words actually remind us of anything? Do they help us grow and learn? Are they only platitudes we toss around to cover our overstayed nostalgia? Am I writing two blog posts about driving to Florida because I want to relive the memory or because I’m scared I’ll forget or because I’m trying to hold onto a time when the present was just that?
Eat your tacos, Brad. They’re delicious.