On The Road To Florida, Quasi-Normal Life Is So Close I Can Taste It

The spring break drive to Florida is never an ideal situation, even in less pandemic-y times. Not with four kids and bad knees. That is a recipe for profound and uncomfortable chaos. This year’s version, though… this is an entirely different animal. We have been cooped up together like war criminals since Olden Times, just as we are cooped up now. We are giddy at the thought of returning to Florida—returning to the ordinary charms of a routine—and that giddiness is palpable. It feels like we’re driving to Zihuatanejo to meet Andy.

We are, at the moment, somewhere south of Montgomery—driving along Alabama State Route 9, deep in the mask-weary enthusiasm of the Final Chapter—with many more miles to go, obviously, but not the soul-crushing ones. These are easier miles, comparatively speaking. Easier than they were earlier today. There are no “easy” miles when you are lugging a three-year-old and ill-tempered tweens across the country, of course. There are only varying degrees of RAGE. At least the end is in sight now. That is making all the difference.

The journey began a thousand months ago in the grim darkness of our own delusions—this morning, before the crushing boredom and anxiety had crept in. We were so naïve back then, when this all began. Naïve enough to make a plan for passing the time productively, and delusional enough to think it would work. The plan was to make sure the kids used their time wisely. Efficiently. That plan was quickly rejected by all. Accomplished, admirable families have had similar ideas, which they accomplished by actually adhering to them. They turned these idle, infinite eons into opportunities for self-improvement. These do-gooders passed the time learning Latin and founding tech startups and baking homemade bread in the backseat, I bet. My family is neither accomplished nor admirable, and as such, we imploded EARLY, while still on 465, between mile-marker FML and the Emerson Avenue exit. It was a violent turf war for legroom, if memory serves. An ominous sign.

By the time we hit the basket-handle bridge in Columbus, we had devolved into lazy, irritable slugs of malaise and wildly inappropriate Netflix shows just to keep the quiet. The die was cast. There was no turning this around. And we were the lucky ones, all told.

A bit further down the road, just past the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, a thousand months ago, it became painfully clear that we had all regressed mentally from where we started, as well as physically, emotionally, scholastically, professionally, financially, intellectually, spiritually, and probably on a molecular level. There was no sign of self-improvement, or even dignity, during this excursion. Only chaos and annoying TikTok videos. Time had stopped, seemingly—the diaper-shitting did not—and Nashville, the halfway point, was still a ways off. The drive is always darkest before Nashville, you know. Today was no different.

What is different, though, is this strange, overwhelming sense of excitement we’re feeling as we snake our way closer to the corrupt beaches and Newsmax vibes of the Florida Gulf Coast—America’s tactical cargo shorts pocket. It is not the fanciest spring break destination, certainly, and it’s probably where Steven Seagal lives year-round. But it is sunny on most days and, more importantly, not our kitchen, which will be plenty good enough for us. It is better than good enough, really, considering the past 12 and a half months. It’s just what the unlicensed physician’s assistant in Fort Walton Beach ordered!

And the closer we get to There—to Florida, to Quasi-Normal Life, to a still-socially distanced world without Zoom calls and claustrophobia and worry, if only for a bit—the more my brain is short-circuiting with anticipation. It is all I can think about as I ride shotgun through the sweetgum trees of SEC country, the final leg of a long journey whose conclusion is finally certain. Or nearly certain.

We are not there yet, but we are close. This strange sensation in my chest is optimism, I think. (Or a pulmonary embolism. One or the other.)