Tuesday, September 01, 2015

From Harry


It’s so cliché. You are on a road trip on an interstate highway. Traffic slows to a crawl for no apparent reason and the child in the back seat pipes up…

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

“No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie.”

One day Maggie will appreciate the irony of her question, but for now she just knows that Grandpa is laughing as the car inches forward and Grandma’s face is turning red.

Yesterday my wife and I took our grandchildren to the aquarium in Virginia Beach. Google Maps will tell you that it is a two-hours, eleven-minute trip from Richmond to the aquarium. Google has never driven I-64 through Hampton Rhodes with two four-year-olds. Maggie, who has recently (and finally) become potty-trained, announced that she has to potty. We had just past a rest area and by the time we got to the next exit with facilities she had an “accident.” We had spare clothes so it wasn’t a big problem.

Eventually we reached the cause of the highway backup, a major crash in the opposite lanes of the road. I count at least four cars that are totaled, plus several other drivable ones intermixed with police, fire, and rescue vehicles. There isn’t anything on our side of the road to hold up the traffic other than drivers who slowed down to view the carnage.

We told Maggie we would be going through a tunnel; the interstate travels over and under Hampton Rhodes (where the James River opens into the Chesapeake Bay) to Norfolk and Virginia Beach. That tunnel can be a horrible experience for drivers during rush hour, but at 2 o’clock in the afternoon it was a speedy part of our trip and Maggie loved it.  
 We finally reach the Aquarium. There is a sea lion pool just outside the entrance and that is our first stop to watch those graceful creatures. Inside we saw all kinds of fish, turtles, crabs, rays, sharks, and other creatures that can be found in Virginia’s coastal waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Spending time with our grandchildren is a wonderful adventure. One month ago I could not do all this. I was really out of shape, easily winded, but my dear wife and I have changed our eating habits, more green vegetables, less bread and potatoes, and lots of exercise. I was able to keep up with Maggie and Corbin nearly all day. 

There are two buildings that make up the aquarium. They are separated by a walkway over a smelly section of tidal marshland and down a path through the woods along a creek. Jayne asked one of the aquarium’s guides how far it was. “Just a short walk”, she was told. We walked out of building one into the bright sun of a 90+ degree day with high humidity. Okay I will admit I was already tired, but I was trying to suck it up and press on. A couple hundred yards later I was done, leaning on a railing, trying to catch my breath. 

I crossed another opening in the woods with the sun beating down and collapsed on a bench in the shade. Jayne and the children had pressed on, but I had decided to wait here for them (or die of heat stroke) to return from the “short walk.” My cellphone rang. Wife was mad that she had not reached the second building yet, although other people on the trail said it was “just a little further.” She suggested that I return to the car and drive over to the still unseen building two to pick them up. Looking at gathering storm clouds all too close overhead, I agreed that this was a good idea although the thought of walking in any direction was not appealing. I drank a little more bottled water and trudged back the way I came.

By the time I reached the deliciously cool air conditioning of the main aquarium building there was loud thunder and my phone’s weather app announced that “lightning has been detected near your current location.” Rather than linger and catch my breath, I hurried on through the building and across the parking lot to our car before raindrops started falling. Building two, it turned out, was ONLY a half-mile away. 

I would like to say that our drive home was uneventful, but it wasn’t. Some people will tell you that driving through Los Angeles on their highway system is pure terror. Others will tell tales of woe about traveling Interstate 95 through the gridlock of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. But these cities have nothing to brag about when compared to the Tidewater area (Hampton, Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake) when it comes to roads. The main interstate is I-64 which travels East from Richmond through Hampton, across to Norfolk (via tunnel) and somehow bends around and turns West before ending. Where does it end? I am not really sure. It splits at several points into other routes. There is I-264, I-364, I-464, and I-664. I guess they skipped 564.

Anyhow we (well really me) decided to travel a different route home that travels to the South of the James River back to Richmond. We left Virginia Beach using I-264, somewhere merged onto I-64, and then discovered we were driving into downtown Norfolk going the wrong direction on I-364 (I think). Turning around near another great museum (Norfolk’s Nauticus with the battleship Wisconsin docked beside it), we weaved through interchanges, and off-ramps until we reached the relative peacefulness of US Route 460 that took us most of the way home. We ran through heavy rain at times, and made several more potty breaks for Maggie and Corbin. It was well past sunset when we brought our grandchildren safely back to the waiting arms of Mommy and Daddy. The kids had a great time. Grandma and Grandpa went home to bed.


  1. FYI that was two weeks ago. Last week we took the twins camping in our RV (caravan to my English brothers). Four days with the twins, who I love dearly, was quite an adventure.

    My wife had promised Maggie some pool time before school starts. She and I took the twins to the campground's pool every morning and afternoon every day. Maggie starts a pre-school program this Thursday and Corbin returns to his school next week.

  2. An occasional reader11:22 PM

    Harry's reference to "just a short walk" brought back through the mists of time a sequence in the Jacques Tati film "Trafic"

    I think they were supposed to be taking a camper-car to an auto show. Along the way, they run out of what we call petrol and you call gas. Taking a small container (petrol can), the “hero” starts walking along a long, straight road that disappears into the distance.
    After some time, he sees a small figure in the distance - walklng towards him.
    They get nearer and nearer to each other.
    Then he finally sees - the other man is also carrying a petrol can....