It’s cold. I haven’t opened the door yet, but last night was the coldest night in three years, so I know. As the door opens, brittle air pierces my face like sharp miniature blades slicing my naked skin. But the rest of me is covered in woolen layers, so the cold momentarily feels good. It awakens me even more than a strong cup of coffee.
Seconds later, by the time I lock my front door and walk the short distance to my driveway, the air is too bitter and I’m thankful for the sanctuary of my car. I hope it starts easily.
After a few cranks, the old girl turns over and I smile and pat the dashboard while whispering, “Good car.” I let it warm up for a minute and fiddle with the radio trying to find the perfect song to start my day. But there is no music. Only DJ’s talking about last night’s hockey game or the latest Hollywood gossip. Where are the radio stations that claim “less talk” and “more music” in the morning?
The housing development where I live is cookie cutter, offering nothing but rows of town homes without personality. Personality is not welcome, and if you are brave enough to say it is, you’ll get a letter from the homeowner’s association asking you to tame it.
I suppose it would be comforting if my life was more cookie cutter, too. It’s been anything but since my divorce 12 years ago. It’s been lonely, frustrating, hilarious, wonderful and scary as hell, but it hasn’t been cookie cutter. Perhaps that’s why I choose to live where I do.
As soon as my car pulls out of the familiar and onto the main street life suddenly changes. I appreciate the difference in the homes, in the trees, in the sidewalks and streets, and even in the people. Passing the school zone slows me down momentarily, but traffic is still light. Children waiting for the bus amuse me as I stop at the light. My community, only minutes away, which I lovingly refer to as the Stepford development, is barren. It’s as if the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came and snatched them all away.
Kids don’t seem to mind the cold as they huddle in groups of giggling preteen girls and the rambunctious boys who circle them for attention. Yet, it’s the younger sets that captivate me and seem to live in a world of their own. I smile at the small boy standing alone talking to himself as he kicks a stone. All too soon, he’ll cross over to the awkwardness, leaving behind the best part of his imagination. It’s the same for the young girl walking the brick wall with her hands extended like she’s on a balance beam at the Summer Olympics. The light turns green before I’m ready as I drive away from her performance as the sound of a car horn brings me to attention.
Next, on my daily commute of stop and go, is a day care center for toddlers. The three- and four-year olds amuse me as they wander through the playground holding hands, or shoot down the sliding board with huge smiles on their faces. How entertaining their conversations must be. Sadly, the yard stands quiet and empty today. It’s much too cold for them to play outside, and I probably won’t see them again until the weather changes.
Once I pass the day care center, the real traffic begins. I’ll be stuck for at least ten minutes at the next intersection, only moving at a crawl. Other commuters have become familiar now, but it’s always a surprise when there’s someone new to watch.
I hardly notice cars. For me, they are simply modes of transportation, boxes that pass me by carrying people from one place to the next. They are not an extension of my personality or a way to impress others. I notice the passengers instead. The man next to me is bundled in a warm coat with the collar turned up to his eyes. I can’t see his face, but I can see that he’s clutching a steaming cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts like it’s his life line.
In front of me a woman is putting on makeup. My sister does that, too. Dangerous, I say. Multitasking, she says.
My eyes wander to the review mirror to check my face, which I decorated in a sleepy haze before I left the house. I look old and have dark circles under my eyes. I rationalize that it’s just temporary, that it’s just the effects of a long, brutal winter.
While wallowing in my narcissism, I glance behind me. What a surprise! A woman is singing joyfully and clapping her hands as if she loves being stuck in traffic. Perhaps some of us hold onto some of our imagination, after all. I’m so amused by her happiness, I scan the radio stations trying to find what she’s listening to. But I can’t find it. It must be a tape or CD, or she’s practicing a song she’s going to sing in Sunday choir. I want to hear what she’s hearing. But I probably never could.
Once the traffic starts moving and I drive past the busiest intersection, the most scenic part of my ride begins. My car putts along a winding road through lovely woods and farmland. There’s hardly any traffic back here so I move along at a decent clip. It’s
gorgeous in the fall when the leaves turn to their autumn colors. In the winter, like today, snow clings to the trees like crystals, and in the summer, the trees are in full bloom so you don’t even need air-conditioning to have a pleasant ride.
But my favorite time is spring when everything starts to bloom. There’s a patch of wild tulips that grow every year. They sit on the landscape like rainbow sprinkles on ice cream, not placed in garden rows of perfection.
They’re starting to build more houses back here now. For now, though, they’ve stayed faithful to the woods and farmland. I hope it stays this way. I hope they don’t overbuild. I pass the large corner house, my favorite, and yearn for Christmas when it’s decorated to the nines. Once Halloween passes, the family slowly builds their creation with colorful lights and lawn ornaments, and by Thanksgiving, it’s complete. For almost 10 years now, I’ve gotten to watch their masterpiece slowly come to life, getting more excited with each new addition to the artist’s canvas.
Minutes later, I drive through the industrial park and pull into my office lot thankful that it’s only taken me 45 minutes to drive six miles. Not too bad today, I think as I’m back out into the brutal cold. I sprint through the lot and use my passkey to open the secure door as a burst of heat hits my face like a sauna. It feels good for a moment but soon becomes overbearing. I immediately tear away my hat, scarf, and gloves as I journey to my desk to start my workday.
Like the home I live in, my workday will most likely be cookie cutter, too, filled with meetings, break room chats and more meetings. But it is comforting to me.
Already, I look forward to my drive home.