“It’s usually not this chaotic,” could make a good tagline for Washington, DC. There is so much going on: everyone concerned with different things, everyone on their own agenda, everyone bustling and busy, from the two-year-old to the eight-year-old to the parents to the dogs with indignant underbites and a demand for scratches. Every roundabout has the potential to trap you around and around an inner lane, avoiding the electric scooterist who swings between car and pedestrian, the people in suits, the drivers cutting in, getting there. There is a sense that things are happening, and there is no parking.
We want coffee. We always want coffee. It has become a subquest – a perennial, constant obsession that sizzles under the surface. Following a recommendation for coffee on our way into DC takes us on a drive right past the White House. This seems fitting. We didn’t want to see the White House. We didn’t plan to do anything tourist-y while in DC, and yet there we were, driving past the White House as if we should pull in and just say a quick hello to our floundering national government. It turns out the coffee shop is a mere block from the White House. We cannot park. We panic. We aimlessly drive away. We have no other recommendations.
We don’t have time. There’s no time to see everyone, to see everyone and make it meaningful and not have a meltdown and not get caught in traffic. So we see almost no one. We see a cousin and three boisterous cousins once removed. We don’t tell them they are once removed. That sounds brutal – like some judgment on the relationship we are able to have. They are just family.
But the kids are delightful, full of energy and questions, initiating a dance party complete with illicit fort-building, playing Kidz Bop versions of Drake and Rihanna, talking to us about Shrek. One of those once removed tells us we look alike. In the face. Are we sisters? We look at each other, as though to appraise the apparent similarities, and all we see is short hair and green eyes and white skin in slightly different hues. This is not the first time and it will not be the last that we are told we look like siblings.
When they are finally stowed away upstairs, we talk quietly in the room below about buying land in West Virginia, getting a trailer that will not move, putting it there. Something between camping and a white picket fence. Something not this chaotic.
In the morning, we are woken by a persistent snuffling, the pug having slipped in and down the stairs, leading us back into the unusual chaos. One shoe found, hair half-done, a pot of coffee full and then a thermos full, the pot empty, everyone out by 7:30. Preparing to leave feels like we are preparing for the SAT – we are all jitters and intensity and apprehension. We know how many states we have before New York, and we know that the drive will be awful, and we know that we have to run in every state. We find coffee and begin our border-crossing up to New York City. Back to one of our origins. Our half-way point. One of the cities we mention when we’re asked where we’re from, where we’re going.
We run from DC to Maryland and back. We get coffee that is the best since New Mexico, and we are thrilled. We buy a bag for the road and are given a small bag hand-labeled “Gunpowder” in marker. A taste of something dangerous, something dark. We hop into the car and flail away.
We see more police than in any state we’ve been in the last month. Misty, cloudy, oppressive weather bars us from seeing any of the maybe pretty scenery. Aggressive traffic jags in front of us and corners us on all sides. A patchwork of highways. A gas station in Pennsylvania. A rest stop and a driver switch. A gas station in Jersey. A $15 toll to get out of Jersey and a young guy calling me “baby” in the ten seconds we speak. Anxiously rounding the block to unload and park. A hotel cart across the busy sidewalk, topped with Alabama fairy wings, bags, a punctured beer can. We never want to drive the East Coast again. And never lasts until three days later, when we continue our trek up, not sure if we’re rested, not sure where we want to go back to.