It’s January for real. School program is back in session. We wake up in the dark. Without my permission, my mind now looks at every routine as something that will change soon, and weighs whether that is a good or a bad thing. At 6am, everything is a bad thing…except then I realize maybe 6am won’t be the wake up time any more. File that one away. For no particular reason I am glad the Christmas lights are stored away. Nothing more depressing than Christmas lights after Christmas.
The phone rings. The driver reports that the street is too icy for the van to come any closer. We can’t even see the van or its headlights. Winter, by New England standards, hasn’t even gotten started yet and we have had more van troubles than even the epic snowstorm years. There’s already been one morning when a crew was required to get it unstuck. It’s considered safer for us to walk down the icy street in the dark than for the damn van to try and make it to our house on our road, which is newly paved but was poorly graded when the street was built. The current driver is risk averse but very nice, and he inches the van into view so his headlights can light the way. The designer of the Econoline van clearly lived in the south, because they could not perform worse in winter conditions and yet we all pile our precious people into them. “A tin can on wheels,” one of our more adept drivers calls them.
In previous years we have had braver drivers, better vehicles and a more attentive and skilled plow company. We can only hope that next winter brings better transportation arrangements, but the odds are very much against it. Adult transportation services in semi-rural suburbs such as ours are practically non-existent. It is a bureaucratic and funding quagmire that is legendary among bureaucratic quagmires. I attended a transportation conference last spring that was designed to address just this issue – in the age of Uber and Lyft surely someone is looking at the big picture. Um, not exactly. Regions, cities and towns are coming up with their own solutions, some better than others. Still, the conversations are happening and many experiments are underway. My job is to figure out where our town is in the process and try to move things along, as it were.
Out and about on this rainy, icy, miserable day, I see an older woman making her way down a treacherous sidewalk. She is wearing a heavy wool coat and has a plastic rain scarf on her head, the kind that unfolds like an accordion. She’s pushing a wire shopping basket. I feel guilty zipping by in my warm car as she bumps along, and I wonder how people find themselves so suddenly in her shoes, in the rain, in the cold and it strikes me that I know exactly how that happens and that this is why I am obsessed with the transition. But this particular person strikes me for another reason. Even though I cannot see her face, I have known and been curious about women like her – kind, patient and determined. I think of one from my childhood in Iowa, Evelyn, who was a nurse who survived the Bataan Death March in 1942. She haunted the back of our church and brought our family bags of walnuts she had gathered from her yard. When the Beatles released Eleanor Rigby, my mother said the song reminded her of Evelyn. She is one of so many people I wish I had been brave enough to know better.
In the meantime, I resist the urge to ask my teenaged companion if he wants to live in this town forever (I know that answer anyway), if and when we should sell the house, and whether he really needs to go away to college. For once I am grateful for the Metallica blasting from his earbuds.
Breathing deeply, I remind myself that we can only make one decision at a time (mostly) and that no decision can or will last forever, so I should stop planning for decades and settle on planning for months. I’ll never stop thinking about the decades but for now just getting home and having lunch will have to suffice.
Getting home and having lunch. Sounds like a routine we can keep.