Traffic Jam on Memory Lane

I’ve talked about this here before, but it is the strangest things that bring me back to a time and place, and often, a random time and place.  This week, it happened to me in an unusually strange place…Interstate 78 in New Jersey.

When Andrea and I first moved to Pennsylvania, we both still worked in New Jersey.  I worked in Warren, less than a mile off 78 and she worked in Oldwick, practically right on 78.  Although we started out taking separate cars to work, it soon became clear that we should drive in together, with me dropping her off before continuing on.  Especially as she got further into her pregnancy with Ben (Andrea was less than two months pregnant when we moved…a story for another time.)

We settled into the routine…getting up at what seemed an ungodly hour of the morning (previously, I would wake up about 45 minutes before I had to be at work), climbing into the car, grumble about how the only song the radio stations seemed to have in their catalog was Usher’s “Yeah!” and then get stuck in traffic for 45 minutes.  Andrea often fell asleep as I continued grumbling about the traffic and made sure to make a mental note of every idiot driver I encountered on the road (I was creating a composite sketch in my brain of what a jackass, in general, looks like.)  This went on through most of the winter and into the spring (Usher really must have had some dirt on every DJ on the east coast) until I got a job literally a mile from our house.

I hadn’t thought about it much since.

This past week, I had to go into New Jersey for a conference and make the commute during rush hour.  At one point on 78, a guy cut me off as he clearly was yelling at his kids in the back seat.  All of a sudden, I was back in my Saturn Sports Coupe with Andrea sitting in the passenger seat with black pants and a purple, floral print maternity shirt on.  Her baby-bump as clear as day as she dozed off.  I instantly recognized the man in the other car as the composite jackass in my brain that I had formed six years ago, but now, I understood this man (except for the minivan he was driving) and recognized how frustrating it can be to drive with kids in the car in traffic.  I felt for him.

However, that is sort of a tangent from the point here.  All those years ago, someone must have cut me off exactly as this guy did, maybe even had the same type minivan in the same general location on 78.  And the memories came pouring in…memories I hadn’t thought about in six-years (almost six-years to the day since we stopped commuting together.)  It made me nostalgic for those days when we were brimming with excitement and fear about the baby on it’s way.  I also felt a tug for those days when it was just Andrea and I.  I thought about how, when we got home from work, we would just crash on the couch for the rest of the night.  Sometimes we would (could might be the better word) just run out to a restaurant without planning it.  A few times, we would go to the local YMCA for a swim.

I started thinking about how far we had come.  We were scared to death in those days, but now we are confident parents (mostly).  I was driving a two door “sports” car with barely enough room for the two of us.  We rented our house back then.

Now, I am driving the first new car I’ve ever owned, a car that was chosen more for room than anything else.  The commute is interrupted by two stops to drop off the kids, although I can work from home sometime.  Nothing happens without a detailed plan of attack.  We own our house, which is almost twice as big as the house back then.  And, thanks to satellite radio and Pandora, I can’t tell you the last time I heard an Usher song.

I could go on for hours listing all the ways that mark just how far we have come in six years, but the point is that they were simpler times for us back then.  They were very sweet times.  Even though I absolutely hated that commute with every fiber of my being, I briefly considered not taking the new job back then because I knew I would miss the commute in with Andrea.  That time was almost an intimate time.  A time when we could talk about our past, the changes coming and the hopes we had (and, also, of course, our bulldog Edgar who made the commute with us one morning when I had to take him in to see his old vet for a follow-up after an operation.)  We would sit there and imagine what it would be like to live with this little baby.  The traffic, as much of a pain as it was, forced us to slow down our lives for two hours a day when we were steamrolling towards a big new adventure.

As I think of those days and then think of Benjamin and Matthew (and even though Ben was with us the whole time), my emotions shift.  When I think of those giggles and smiles,  suddenly, the memories of that morning commute seems lonely and even a touch sad.  When I think of that house we commuted from, I just see emptiness.  The memories of those days are sweet and while sometimes, for brief flashes, I wish for simpler times, I wouldn’t trade the chaos of our lives now for all the world.

It’s funny, as I was proofing this and trying to figure out how to wrap this up, Don Henley’s “Taking You Home” came on Pandora…some of the lyrics seem fittingly appropriate.

I had a good life
Before you came
I had my friends and my freedom
I had my name
Still there was sorrow and emptiness
'Til you made me glad
Oh, in this love I found strength I never knew I had

And this love
Is like nothing I have ever known
Take my hand, love
I'm taking you home
I'm taking you home


I'm taking you—home
Where we can be with the ones who really care
Home, where we can grow together
Keep you in my heart forever

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