Monday, March 29, 2010

Suburbs of Our Discontent

"Whatever you do, don't take the Saw Mill"

I drove down to New York City this weekend to see my parents. I must have done this drive fifty times in my life, but I still get a little twinge of anxiety driving down I-684. Which way should I go? Will I end up lost in the Bronx or--worse yet--New Jersey if I get off at the wrong exit?

There's no logical reason why I shouldn't know my way. I have an excellent sense of direction. It's clearly a psyche-out at this point.

You see, in my family, driving routes are used as a weapon--against each other. Which route you take says everything about who you are and how you do or don't follow the family party line.

This is probably because we didn't grow up driving. When we got in a car it was to go on epic 10-hour drives (or maybe to Chinatown). Driving was exotic, an adventure. Mapping out routes--locating the best rest stops and the shortest, fastest roads--was serious business. You didn't deviate from them. You still don't--not unless you've found a proven shortcut witnessed by a passenger and verified with a stopwatch.

The problem is, I'm a Saw Mill River Parkway gal. There's a mantra in my family: "Whatever you do, don't take the Saw Mill." The Saw Mill is not efficient. It's not the Sprain or the Merritt or the Hutchinson River Parkway: all sleek, but confusing snakeways into the City. No. The Saw Mill is a Sunday drive, winding, with traffic lights (!), but soothingly predictable.

In my family, it's the coward's way, but it's mine.

Usually, when I'm heading out, my father asks me which way I'm planning to go. This is a test--one as potent as Lear's "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" This is a test I will not pass. I cannot heave my heart into my mouth and tell him what he wants to hear. My sister can cajole him, my older brother learned years ago how to avoid direct questions, and my younger brother always carries a stopwatch.

But I'm the fool who tells the truth about the Saw Mill.

This time, though, I didn't have to break his heart. He was too busy with his newfound discovery of online bargain-hunting to even ask. And hunting for deals is as important as finding the perfect route in our family: "Whatever you do, don't pay full price."

For the first time, I could cruise home, entirely relaxed, moving easily from 87 to my old friend Mr. Saw Mill.

As long as I made sure I never paid any tolls.

Never, never, never, never, never!

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