My Summer of Open Air Driving
by Ann Johnson
My cars air-conditioning conked out this spring. Again. It died last spring, too, but that time I dutifully took the car to the shop and had it repaired. Not this time. I wasnt going to put any more money into that wreck than I absolutely must. I had two daughters on the brink of college. I needed a year with no car payments and no big repair bills. So I prepared to be hot, real hot, for the first time in a few years.
It was hot. Id forgotten just how God-awful it is to sit in 95-degree traffic jams, with all my windows rolled down right next to one of those smelly trucks. And Id forgotten how many people seem to love to play music I hate really loud on their car stereos. Id forgotten how useless it is to take a shower and feel fresh and clean when Id be covered with sweat and sticking to the car seats after a couple minutes at the wheel. Id forgotten what the rushing wind could do to those stacks of ungraded papers Id carelessly left on the back seat.
But Id also forgotten a few other things.
Id forgotten about those rows and rows of wild roses that bloom along Route 2 going south to Calvert County. Sometimes, on my trip home, their perfume would linger all the way to the roundabout at Lothian. Id never noticed that the parking lot of the Edgewater Giant is ringed with huge pines whose pungent odor truly makes it Christmas in July.
Sadly, I realized that there were a lot more dead creatures along the sides of the roads than the ones I saw; I could tell by the sweet, sickly smell of decay as I drove by.
On really sultry days, Route 408 going in to Waysons Corner was a godsend. Long stretches of that road are shaded by huge oaks and maples that blocked out the sun, relieved my aching eyes and cooled my temper.
It was funny, too, how the bad news seemed to disappear with the windows down. Its hard to hear the radio with the wind roaring in your ears. I felt like a better citizen, too. Instead of being surprised by an ambulance or fire truck in my rearview mirror, now I heard them far in advance and did the right thing.
The rhythms of life became more obvious. On my morning drive to work, the birds would be going to work, too, singing energetically and with purpose. By the time I came home, Id just hear the occasional lazy call of a hawk or crow, settling down for the day.
My dogs were in heaven. I am a card-carrying member of the Annapolis SPCA, and Id always known better than to let the dogs ride with their heads out the windows (besides, I always had the air-conditioning on). But now it was a choice between inevitable heat exhaustion or the chance of a stray pebble blind-siding one of the dogs. The windows went down. The dogs snouts went out, and they spent many a happy minute sniffing the air and loudly defending us from hostile canines in other vehicles. Theyve been completely successful, Im proud to say. Not a single dog has yet to make it past their defenses and into our automotive kingdom, even with the windows rolled down.
Next spring, Ill be buying a new car and willing this one to my teenagers; driving is still fun to them, air-conditioning or not. My next car will definitely have air-conditioning, but I dont think Ill use it quite as often. Especially when the wild roses are in bloom.
Ann Johnson, D.C. born and four years of Chesapeake Country, teaches fourth grade at Mattaponi Elementary in Upper Marlboro.