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Sheila Blanchette Headshot

Let's Get in the Car and Drive

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We set out across the Everglades, driving down Alligator Alley, fingers crossed, hoping my old Hyundai with 182,238 miles and a dent on the front right bumper that we never fixed due to the deductible, would make the journey without incident. We've had numerous vehicular mishaps over the past 23 years, but today was our anniversary, so we hoped grace would smile upon us. Through all our years together, we are happiest when we are on the move. This is the story of our marriage. Old cars, an old house and a reckless sense of adventure.

Just west of Deerfield Beach, past Parkland, my husband handed five quarters to a bored toll collector. Happiness overtook me as I gazed out the car window at the flat, swampy landscape. Nesting birds camped out on almost every tree branch and blended into the tall reeds along the creek that runs parallel to the highway. Four pink flamingos flew by. We exclaimed with delight, having never seen a flock of flamingos in flight.

The landscape opened wide as we passed through the Big Cypress Seminole and Miccosukee Indian Reservations. Next Rest Stop 46 miles. Suddenly hungry, we pulled into the Miccosukee Service Area. I love highway rest stops. They never fail to give me a buzz, filling me with expectations. People on the move, cars full of luggage, towing boats and ATV's, bicycles attached to the back bumper and kayaks on the roof. For all their sameness, the fast food chain restaurants and the self service gas, each state's rest stops have a sense of place.

Although there is no resident population on the reservation, a group of Native Americans, deeply tanned older men with long salt and pepper hair tied back in ponytails, are checking the oil in their beat up old Chevy truck. This could be Wyoming or South Dakota except for the squawking of hundreds of birds in the palm trees.

A long line of customers snakes down the aisle of chips and Slim Jims, waiting for the solo cashier to ring them up. My husband grabs ice tea at the back of the store and I load up on little packets of mayo and mustard over by the grill where hot dogs are cooking.

We carry our cooler to a tiki hut past the restrooms where a sign reads: Showers Around Back. The picnic tables are covered with bird droppings. We quickly assemble our sandwiches using our cooler as a table while I watch an elderly man spray his picnic table with antiseptic cleaner as his wife unrolls wads of paper towels and passes them to him, pointing to the dirty spots he's missed. Their daughter unwraps a large wedge of cheese, what looks like pecorino romano, and slices wide slivers with a vegetable peeler. Her mother assembles salads on paper plates. Mixed baby lettuce, tomato and cucumber slices, some of the slivered cheese. One of three grandchildren shakes a fancy bottle of vinaigrette and sprinkles it on the salads while another grandchild places cheese slices on small rolls. They are speaking a romance language. It doesn't sound like Spanish. I am thinking it is Italian, the pecorino leading me in that direction. I am reminded of another time, on a flight to Denver, when my husband and I were envious of other people's culinary talents while traveling.

My husband quickly eats his sandwich, dropping chips on the ground. A large white van pulls up to the rest rooms and a bevy of laughing young women disembark. One is carrying a stuffed pink tube, holding it at waist level, sticking straight out in front of her. "Is that a penis?" I ask. "Yeah," my husband replies, packing up the cooler. "Bachelorette party." He nods in agreement, then says, "Let's roll," impatient to get back on the road. "This was an awesome rest stop," I say. He rolls his eyes but smiles. He knows I live for this kind of thing. Birds swoop in to eat his fallen chips.

Our destination is a tent at Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island, where friends are spending six weeks escaping the Vermont winter at their maple syrup farm. The tent is large with room for two chairs, a table and a lamp. We are in our mid-fifties, camping for the first time in a long time. The honeymoon suite exceeds our expectations.

Our hosts are Kathy, the younger sister of a friend of my husband's, and her boyfriend, Ned. I have never met Kathy, but she enjoys my blog and I have known her brother for years. Over 30 years ago, we camped and hiked with him at the Grand Canyon. This is the first time we meet Ned. Within minutes, we are old friends. We spend the weekend biking, walking beaches, eating delicious food and talking about everything under the sun but the conversation always circles around to the subject of the next chapter in our lives. How to think outside the box, how to enjoy the rest of our lives while still working and recovering from difficult economic times. Many of these conversations take place around the kitchen table inside the motor home in a park where many people a generation older than us are enjoying a comfortable retirement.

We discuss our desire to downsize, rid ourselves of unnecessary belongings and travel light. We need to work for many more years. Unlike our parents before us, our retirement savings have been battered by years of downsizing, layoffs and stock market swings. We have no pensions securing our way to a comfortable retirement. We discuss our willingness to take risks, try new things and make career changes in an effort to make our remaining working years enjoyable. Summing it up for all of us, Ned says "live the questions and don't seek the answers."

My husband and I have traveled many roads over the 32 years we have known each other. It hasn't always been easy, at times it seemed that anything that could go wrong did go wrong. We've fought and argued, laughed and loved, and picked ourselves up over and over again, adapting to the shifting winds of chance and circumstances beyond our control.

Neither one of us has a tendency to dwell on the past. The mistakes we've made, the hardships that befell us. Time does not stand still, we realized neither could we. Our eyes are on the road ahead, the adventure around the next corner. Dreams are not just for the young. We have the advantage of having learned a few things along the way and one thing we now know, it is in the changing that we are truly living.