Cars, Crossroads and Character
I’ve been thinking about crossroads, both literal and metaphorical recently. Whether it’s because we are about to enter the high school process with my son and the elementary one with my daughter, or due to my own position now that I no longer have a child at home full time, or simply because the Blues have been on my mind since I started watching Under the Influence and the long shadow of Robert Johnson is hard to ignore I don’t know. Nonetheless the crossroads are there, lurking.
There’s a particular crossroads spot in Santa Monica, where Olympic crosses Bundy that I pass through usually at least once a day. With its double dose of gas station, huge billboards and endearingly jarring buildings it strikes me as peculiarly American. I was sitting there, in traffic, a couple of weeks ago with my son. With one thing and another we have been spending quite a bit of time driving around together, often listening to music, on this occasion Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan was playing. A number of things struck me all at once as a sense of the inevitability of change and a yearning for times past rolled through me.
When we lived in Manhattan, my son and I were always on foot, in taxis or on public transport, as were most of our city friends. One family we knew made the daily commute into Manhattan from Queen’s in a beat up maroon Toyota Sienna and I distinctly remember yearning for the comfort and normality which it represented to me at the time. In the years since our move out West we have spent so much time in the car that my former desire seems to have come from the heart of an entirely different person. Unsurprisingly when I yearn now it is for the hustle and bustle of a Manhattan sidewalk or for the uniquely up close and personal experience that is a trip on the 6 uptown at rush hour. Yet there is so much of value in a car journey. Whether it’s the morning or afternoon school run or a much longer drive, the cocoon of intimacy that the car provides has been a wonderful setting for many an interesting exchange, revelation or vital discussion that just wouldn’t have happened unless those moments, plucked out of the day’s usual whirlwind of normality had been granted by the car ride.
I drove through the early evening alone this week on my way to a high school information night at Loyola High School. The drive there was absolutely horrendous in true Los Angeles fashion, with a drive of eleven miles taking around ninety minutes or so along a completely unfamiliar route as Google Maps did everything within its power to keep me away from the I10. People’s tempers are short at the best of times on the LA vehicular scene, but in rush hour traffic the lack of consideration and unbridled aggression are, on occasion, a sight to behold! I confess that I almost turned back on more than one occasion but persisted as the better part of me knew that the meeting would be worthwhile even with a late arrival. As I sat in the auditorium listening to two teachers describe the life and challenges of a high school boy and field an incredible variety of questions from anxious parents about the admissions process with admirable ease and patient humour, I suddenly felt that I could see my son’s high school career open up in front of me; whichever school becomes his destination. As if, along with the greater distances he will need to travel to school, whether within the city or out into the valley, and the vaster campus size he will learn to navigate he will grow and develop in character and strength until he is ready and prepared to take that final leap into the world of college and the life that awaits him beyond.
And so, as I sat again at the crossroads this morning with my daughter, I smiled inwardly. We move from one crossroads to another in life it seems, or maybe we return time and again to the same one depending on our own perspective and insight.