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“Dad…you’re driving so slowly, we’re never going to get there at this rate.”
My dad chuckled at my brother’s comment. We had only just gotten on the highway and Cory was already complaining. At his age he knew not to rush. You had to take everything nice and easy.
“Look back now, and you might get a last glimpse of the city,” my dad said as he merged into the constant flow of traffic.
My siblings and I turned around in the back seat. The bright yellow sunrise filled the cloudless morning sky. I could just make out the community hospital by the entrance ramp. As we got further away, it became enveloped in the blinding sunlight. Just a few yards behind us, a young sparrow was trying to take flight into the gentle breeze. His fight with gravity was not in vain, for soon he was, although barely, flying through the dewy air. After a minute of watching the receding city, I turned and decided to look through the windshield instead. I was young and was only focused on what was ahead of me, not what lay behind me.
Route 18 was built by Governor George Vandelay in 1932. At that time the state, like the rest of the country, was slipping into the worst part of the depression. Men needed jobs to feed their starving families, and the governor thought that the highway would be the perfect project. He assured the public that Route 18 would not only give the unemployed the jobs and money they needed now, but it would serve to be the backbone of the state in the future. Vandelay preached for hours on the subject. “This road,” he would say, looking up at the beautiful yellow state flag, “will give life to this community. It will allow for easier transportation, numerous jobs, and prime real-estate. You just wait and see.” The construction of the highway lessened the load of the depression for many people and eventually became a sort of monument to Vandelay and his beliefs. On the last mile of Route 18, about 500 feet from the road, there is a large, tomb like stone where the great George Vandelay is rumored to be buried.
By now everyone had calmed down. My dad was staring at the road, hypnotized by the rhythmic pattern of the yellow lines following the highway into the horizon. Every now and then my mom would look up from her book and turn around, just to be sure the kids were getting along. My brother was playing on his laptop while Amanda was listening to music on her iPod. As for me, I was content with watching the yellow planes, the arms that spread out from the spine of the highway. They seemed so secluded. The stalks would wave back and forth in the wind, making a soft rustling in the air. And yet, the scene was somewhat depressing. The vast open spaces made me think how lonely we all were. Even though I was within five feet of my entire family, we never seemed so far apart. I looked from side to side at all of the other cars next to us. We were all taking the same path to the same place. And yet, I had no idea who these people were, and even if I did, there was no way for me to reach out to them. They were in their own little box and I was in mine. We really were all alone, each taking our own path down Route 18.
“Ohh, look!” my mom shouted as we past by an exit.
My eyes followed her finger to a tall and beautiful temple. It looked somewhat odd standing all alone in the middle of the grasslands.
“It looks like someone is having a Bar Mitzvah,” Dad noted after studying the ceremony that was taking place in the courtyard. He slowed down in order to get a better view. In a way, we felt like we were part of the celebration, when a boy becomes a man. If I squinted, I could see the torah sitting in the arc. It was decorated with a yellow lace that was wrapped around the golden scrolls. I wanted my dad to linger for just a moment longer, but the traffic behind us started to get aggravated.
“Man, when did people get so impatient?” Dad said as he stepped up the gas, “They can’t even slow down a minute to appreciate the meaningful things anymore.”
As we zoomed away from the scene at 65 miles an hour, I took one last look behind me. Something in the distance caught my eye. It was the little bird from that morning. Only now, he didn’t seem so little. With what seemed like majestic pride, the sparrow was now soaring high in the sky. Despite the fact that he was much higher in the sky now, the bird appeared to be much larger than when he began his long journey many miles ago. In the few hours since our first encounter, he seemed to have obtained a sense of maturity. The little yellow sparrow was now the king of the clear blue skies.
“Hey, I have a great idea, why don’t we play the alphabet game!” my sister suggested.
“Okay. There’s an ‘A’ on that sign,” Cory pointed out.
I turned to see the sign which read “Yellow Meadow Avenue Exit, 4 miles”.
“There is a ‘B’ on that billboard for the BMV.”
“Look, a ‘C’ on that poster for a high school graduation.”
We continued playing for the next couple of hours, but, inevitably, we got stuck on ‘Q’ and quit. Soon the sun began to fall in the sky. We all looked in awe at the canvas ahead of us where the sun was painting stunning streaks of red, orange, and yellow. The last rays of light seemed to lazily float over the concrete. I had never seen such a picturesque sunset. We all stopped whatever we had been doing and just sat in admiration of the beautiful landscape. I glanced at the plains once more. The stalks seemed to dance in the strands of light mixed with shadow. They seemed so…so… peaceful. At that moment, I looked into the faces of my family members and said to myself, maybe we aren’t alone. We might be on our own at times, but maybe there’s always someone there when it matters. Maybe we have to do some things by ourselves, but when we need to enjoy a sunset with someone, they’re right there next to us. As I thought about this, a feeling of calmness came over me. At that moment, for the very first time, I could see at last that the struggles we faced, like the little sparrow’s, were not in vain. At the end of the day, we would all be flying high in the sky. I took one last look around the highway for the little guy. He was still following us, only this time, he seemed somewhat weighed down by age. The long flight was taking its toll, but the sparrow knew he had to persevere. He had to continue on his journey down Route 18.
Just then, my dad turned off the highway at university square.
“That’s far enough for today,” he said as the last streams of yellow sunshine dove below the horizon.
“Already?! We’re never going to get there,” Cory whined.
My dad just smiled and winked at him. He knew to take the drive slowly. He knew not to speed along in the fast lane. He knew what lay at the end of the road.