My daughter, Taylor, alternates with me between napping and driving across The Great Plains.
We just passed a shrink-wrapped boat. What it’s doing in the middle of Nebraska, Ihave no idea. But there seems to be all manner of transport along this flat, gray, rainy Pony Express trail.
My daughter sits next to me napping on her “Hug this pillow until you can hug me” fluffiness, given to her by her new hubby. It’s sweet. Even though we’re traveling at a pretty steady clip, we’re not taking great pains as we drive across The Great Plains. Destination: Cheyenne, Wyoming and her next three years. Why oming? Her Air Force husband just re-upped for duty and she’s got a job working with older folks at the Veterans Administration. Her new life awaits her.
Rain has been our constant companion from Michigan to here: Somewhere, Nebraska. We keep ourselves alert with Mexican Coke. No, that’s not as bad as it sounds. You can sometimes buy Coca Cola in Detroit that’s made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, which Taylor’s allergic to.
It would be too simple to say the rain mirrors my mood. It also wouldn’t be true. I keep my eye and soul open, looking for the sadness, the poignancy of dropping my baby off far away for a new life. But over her young adult years we’ve done it often enough; first at college, then for half a year in Australia, then last summer living with her then-fiancé in North Dakota. So we’ve done this goodbye thing before. This feels like just a continuation of the march, the culmination even. We love her husband and we know they won’t be out here forever. Maybe that’s just a rationalization on my part. Though it feels real enough when I write it.
She’s always been a great traveler. Ever since she and her big sister were little kids in their carseats, road trips were a breeze. Granted, my wife and I used to drive overnight from New Hampshire back to Michigan so that the girls could sleep through most of it.
Nowadays, my daughter isn’t so much my daughter, but my friend. We laugh like fools at insanely inappropriate jokes and share silly, random thoughts. Like, they routinely shut down the highway out here. There are actual railroad gates that go down to keep motorists off it during high winds or blizzards.
“What do people do then, take surface streets, back roads,” I wonder aloud.
“No, they just go back home,” Taylor answers.
I wonder where that double-bottomed FedEx truck calls home? Then we talk about last night after driving 12 hours. We had a taste for steak and since we were stopped in Omaha, we thought we’d be blown away by locally sourced meat. Meh, not so much. It wasn’t pink in the center; but P!nk was playing at the Center — a concert that is — at the CenturyLink Center nearby. Dumb thoughts like that.
Meanwhile, the rain clearly sees as its mission to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer in one fell swoop. And Taylor is back in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically. Her husband James keeps checking in with her, where are you, how long ’til you get here. He’s like an excited child waiting to see Disneyland.
Taylor’s the same; even routine things like setting up their shower curtains or the placement of their couch in their new home excite her to giddiness. Don’t even get her started on shopping for end tables. This is a good fit; they will have fun together, starting in just under two hours.
We pass another random boat way out in the middle of nowhere, sitting alone with a For Sale sign affixed to it. I don’t think this is what’s meant by the term prairie schooner. I look closer on the map and see why there are boats and why I-80 dips and curves across Nebraska, instead of shooting straight across. It mirrors the Platte River for the second half of the state as it snakes westward.
More gates sit swung open along the road. I have a tough time imagining a freeway just simply closing down, done for the day. It’s hard to fathom all of them snapping shut, barring Walmart trucks, tankers, moving vans and dads driving daughters.
Finally we arrive. The mission succeeds. We deliver her safely to her new life, complete with a newly adopted dog (their second). They’re a beautiful family in a beautiful home with a beautiful future in a beautiful part of the country. And I’m still not feeling blue. I wonder why, but then decide to just not worry about it.
After a couple days organizing and getting acquainted with the place, they put me on a plane back to Detroit. My wife has to make a major detour driving me home. Our own freeway, I-75, is closed for miles due to construction. I smile at the coincidence. Neither wind nor snow, but an infrastructure project shut us out.
The following morning we get a call from Taylor.
“Dad, is it bad that I didn’t cry when we dropped you off at the airport?” she asks me.
No sweetheart. I think we were both excited to get on with our next phases. And frankly, to get a little sleep. Sure, we may get a little weepy reading this. But there’salways FaceTime, texting, phone calls and emails to keep us connected. That highway never shuts down.
James, Zora, Taylor and Rex pause with paws for a photo.