Irony makes me smile. Tomorrow, I drive to Gaithersburg, Maryland, maybe eight miles from where I grew up, to complete my transformation into a Pennsylvanian. We’re going there to look at a pickup truck.
I moved to Pennsylvania fifteen years ago looking for an escape from urban life. Although, my childhood in Rockville, Maryland could hardly be considered urban. A neighborhood of quarter-acre lots with cookie cutter houses, the floor plans flipped here and there to give an impression of uniqueness. A freshly built neighborhood, the landscape stripped of all trees, saplings planted, two to a yard, the promise of future tire swings for the young families filling up the neighborhood.
Washington D.C., ten miles and a world away was an afterthought in my life. The only time I remember going to D.C. as a kid was to see the Fourth of July fireworks. Instead, I played kick the can or basketball in one of the driveways down the street. We ran errands in the opposite direction of Washington, deeper into the growing suburbs, heading out towards Gaithersburg.
After college, disdainful of the life my parents lived, I moved into the city. First Capitol Hill, tightly packed row houses, non-existent parking and gun shots echoing through the night. Later Glover Park, street after street of forties-era garden apartment buildings neatly squeezed between a bar district and the neighborhoods of the rich. And finally, a house of my own, mimicking my parents suburban existence but inside city-limits, so therefore cool. Susan and I planned to raise our family there.
We still lived in D.C. in 2002 when Sophie was born. Every other day (my pick up day), on my walk home from the metro station, I collected Sophie at day care, pushed her stroller a block up the street to the liquor store and bought a six pack of beer or a couple bottles of wine. I grabbed a Dum Dum for Sophie from a basket on the counter. On the trip to the store, then the whole way home, we would talk. Sophie in her tiny little voice, me straining to hear over the endless traffic escaping the city back to Maryland for the night. “WHAT?”
Pause for a quick story: About eight years after we moved to Pennsylvania, driving home from a day trip to the Washington National Zoo, we stopped at that liquor store to take advantage of their amazing wine selection. The clerk working the register took a look at me and coolly said “Hmmm. Been a long time.” Then she looked at the preteen girl grabbing a lollipop from the wicker basket and shouted “Oh my God! Is this Sophie?”
Eventually, our inability to hear what Sophie said as we pushed her in the stroller became so annoying, we bailed. We sought out a quiet life in Gettysburg.
It takes time to change your identity. For years, Susan and I were far more comfortable in D.C. than we were in Gettysburg. Sure, we loved the quiet, but there was no way around it, we were city people. Our biggest gripe with the town was there was no place to buy bagels. We drove yuppie little cars like our Honda Civic, and then our Mazda 5, a minivan so tiny that in D.C. parlance it’s known as a ‘skinny-van.’ We never embraced country music, supported Democrat politicians and raised cats instead of dogs. We didn’t fit in.
Now, we’re returning to the D.C. suburbs tomorrow to maybe buy a big-ass pickup truck (an American pickup at that, a GMC: what could be more American than a GMC). In our defense, it’s listed as a mid-sized pickup, but that’s because the full-size pickups are larger than our whole D.C. house.
Eli’s been angling for this vehicle for years. He was born in Gettysburg, so he may have an innate draw to pickup trucks. But recently his arguments have started making sense.
“Wouldn’t it be great to just throw the kayaks in a truck-bed rather than strap them on the car roof?”
“Ya know, we could get all four bikes in the back of a truck.”
“Don’t you get sick of paying five dollars for a bag of mulch when you can get a whole truckload for twenty?”
He pushes the right buttons. I don’t think we’ll buy a truck tomorrow. Susan and I see the trip as reconnaissance, but, wow, it’s a nice-looking truck, and the price is right. Maybe on Monday, I’ll join the VFW.