Monday, August 13, 2018

first Sunday back in the States

Sunday morning, I slept in. The plan was to hit my buddy Mike's place in Fredericksburg, perhaps do some shopping there, then maybe drive out to Skyline Drive to catch the last possible viewing of the Perseid meteor shower. I also had a load of gifts to drop off, so there was that task as well.

My brother David had warned me that traffic along Route 95 south would be bad after noon on Sunday. Sure enough, it was: Route 95 was stop-and-go pretty much the entire way down from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. I've seen articles dealing with this phenomenon, which appears to be a statistical inevitability: the aggregate result of all those drivers' various and seemingly random behaviors is that you end up with compressed, slow-moving patches of traffic alternating with decompressed, fast-moving patches of traffic. Inevitable or not, it was a pain in the ass to alternate between a crawl and a gallop.

I ended up spending about seven hours at Mike's place; in the end, I didn't shop and didn't drive out to see the meteor shower: a huge but brief summer thunderstorm moved into our area, knocking down trees, flooding homes, and depriving the area of electricity, including Mike's residence. Cell coverage was lost, which rendered my mobile hotspot useless. With clouds now dominating the sky, and with the Front Royal forecast sounding gloomy through the night, it didn't seem worthwhile to try either shopping or meteor-gazing. I simply hung out with Mike's family for a while, then drove back home.

Family life strikes me as profoundly nonlinear. I've noted this before, but it's worth repeating: in a family context, you're lucky if you can finish uttering a complete thought without getting interrupted, overruled, or otherwise sidetracked. Mike's kids are great, but they all feel they have something to say, they love saying what they have to say dramatically, and they'll interject without regard for whether someone else is talking. Hilariously, when someone interrupts someone else, the victim of the interruption will loudly call out the rude behavior, but that very loudness only serves to sidetrack or bog down the conversation even further. I'm heading out to my friend Dominique's home in France this October; I'll be curious to hear how his family handles everyday dinner conversation and other forms of discours en famille.

I did, however, have time to chat a bit with Michael's father, who has been spending time with Michael's family since he lost his wife to cancer. I'm going to be coming back to Fredericksburg this coming Saturday for a long-planned wake, at which time I'll meet more old friends and possibly my old high-school French teacher, who was a good friend of Michael's mother.

The drive back to my hotel went a bit faster than the drive down, but not by much. It had stopped raining; much of the temporary flooding had receded by the time I was back on the road. It had been good to see my friend again, even if the ambient family chaos hadn't given us much time to truly sit down and talk. And dinner, which was grilled hamburgers and salad, was delicious.

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