Taking a picture from inside a moving car is a bad idea; stopping your car in a roadway to take a picture from a complete standstill is often an even worse one. This road, however, is known to me as the sleepy spot it’s remained for all the years stretching back to high school and college when I first discovered its hidden joys.
This is Beaver Dam Road. It cuts across national agricultural lands and skirts the Patuxent Research Refuge. One end of it is not-terribly-far from my current home, which happens also to be the home of my adolescence. Drive through to the other end and you wind up only a very short way from the first home I ever lived in when I moved out of my folks’ place.
The years haven’t changed the road much. When I see something like this, on a road I have driven countless times in half a lifetime, I will catch my breath and think, “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”! That’s why I take them. Not necessarily to save time, but to find time.
It’s dark outside by the time we get to San Juan, and we throw ourselves into the Jollibee with the enthusiasm of the hungry. Any reservations I have about fast-food spaghetti disappear as my stomach rumbles. After we eat, it’s time to find our way the last leg of our trip, the final 23 kilometers to the beach resort we are booked into. Our choices outside are basically two, since Grab isn’t showing me any drivers nearby. We can take a jeepney, or a trike. As we walk up to the jeepney depot, we see one – helpfully labeled “Laiya,” our desination – just pulling away.
Our fallen faces give us away to the trike driver. He strolls up, asks where we need to go. My companion looks a question at me, and I nod. I climb into the sidecar, welded onto the motorcycle, a custom steel cage with its floor riding perhaps four inches off the ground, and place our small bags between my knees. There is a window in front of me, but there are so many small stuffed animals hanging in front of it that it’s impossible to get a clear view. Once we start moving, my companion riding a strangely delicate sidesaddle behind our driver, conversation is impossible and I realize it’s too dark to see anything anyway, even if the window were unobstructed. My right hand grips the inside of the steel cage and my left grabs the luggage, as if any of this will help if something goes wrong.
We get there without incident, and I feel a strange mixture of displacement and exhilaration. I have never been more far from home. I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin. Our trike driver, suitably impressed by our ridiculous Western tipping, offers to come get us for our return trip in two days. He exchanges numbers with my travel partner and we say goodbye.
Two days later, peacefully asleep inside our cabana, the ocean breeze drifting in through the curtain that is our doorway and playing around the mosquito netting over our bed, we are startled awake by the phone.
“It’s…oh god it’s the trike driver.”
“It’s 7:30 in the morning!”
“We told him we would be leaving after lunch!”
“I know. I’m not answering.”
But the driver calls back three times in a row until my partner answers, tells him “1 p.m.,” and puts the phone down with a sigh. We drift back to sleep. Outside, the bird that sounds like beeping decides to serenade us.
On the drive back, I can see. Not because any of the stuffed animals are gone, but because it’s daylight. I can see volcanic peaks across green fields. This time I don’t hold on.
It’s time to go back. Even though the visit has been great, the aggressive bugs and the spotty internet have me thinking fondly of home. I know where I am, I know how to go back, but out of habit I pull up Waze on my phone. Hilariously, I have no signal where I’m staying, so I have to find my way through the maze of back roads that I don’t know as well – this is only my third visit – in order to pull up the maps. Waze points me confidently to 95 North.
“I don’t WANT to go 95 North!” I say and tap the screen for other routes…all of which eventually take me to 95 North.
“Pfft!” I say and pull up Google Maps, which proceeds also to tell me that the only possible reasonable way to take from where I am to where I’m going is 95 North.
I emphatically disagree.
My gas tank full, because I’ve pulled over to fill it and get signal, I pull away from the gas station and head north, and east. I look at Google Maps one more time on the way, pulling over to get my bearings. I shut off the map, leave my phone to do no other work than provide a soundtrack, and make my way north.
I get there just fine, thank you.