The car is finally packed with all the essentials college students feel are indispensable to getting an education -- from books and clothes to a three-month supply of toiletries, wedged in with stereo, desk lamp, dart board and refrigerator.
I'm not looking forward to this trip. It's a little more than two hours to the campus at Harrisonburg, but if things go as they usually do, I will be the captive audience for a lecture series all the way there.
Generally, we get along pretty well -- he goes his way, I go mine, with very few hassles. It's these times of passage that are difficult. It's almost as if he's afraid to let go, afraid to let me do my own thing -- make my own mistakes. Sometimes I think he feels that he'll share the blame for my failures if he neglects to warn me of life's dangers and pitfalls.
"You about ready?" he asks.
"Anytime you are," I reply. I grab a couple of Snickers bars and a package of Twinkies and stuff them in my jacket pocket, hoping he won't notice. With today's technology, you'd think someone would come up with a noiseless candy wrapper.
"Well, let's move it out."
He insists on driving, so I settle in the passenger side of the front seat, next to a stack of textbooks. My jeans feel uncomfortably tight -- I must have left them in the dryer too long.
I'd rather listen to my favorite radio station, but since there is a long-standing family rule that the driver chooses the music, I resign myself to enduring his choice. As we head south on Chain Bridge Road toward Rte. 66, I lean my head against the headrest and close my eyes.
"You could read, you know. Megatrends is right there on top," he says, nodding toward the book barrier between us. "It's pretty interesting stuff."
Megaboring, I say to myself. "Maybe later," I answer.
"You stayed up and watched that movie, didn't you?"
Here it comes: The Lecture. Act I, Scene I -- Keeping Regular Hours. "Uh, huh," I reply.
"Sometimes I wonder if you'll ever learn. You knew you had to be up early today of all days. I bet you didn't even have any breakfast."
I open my eyes and look down at my jeans, which now have a stranglehold on the lower half of my body. Sometimes humor works on him, so I give him a playful jab on the arm and say, "You mean you don't call two jelly doughnuts, a bagel and an iced Pop-Tart breakfast?"
He shudders and shakes his head sadly. While he gives me the You Are What You Eat Lecture -- Act I, Scene II -- I try not to laugh as I picture myself as a giant burrito with extra refried beans, a side order of fries, a double chocolate shake and a couple of strawberry blintzes. I'm an equal opportunity gourmet.
Surreptitiously, I unsnap my jeans and pretend to sleep.
He doesn't start on Act II, Scene I -- Shape Up or Ship Out -- until the halfway mark. "I certainly hope you're going to get some regular exercise this fall." He's one of those maniacs who worship at the altar of fitness. Up until now, I've resisted being converted, but to appease him, I say, "Sure thing, I'm planning on it."
"Something more strenuous than talking on the phone, I hope," he says sarcastically.
I consider, for a moment, strangling him, but decide that the timing is wrong, as the books are in my way and we are traveling at least 55 miles per hour. "I am entitled to some means of communication with the outside world. It's not like I have my own car," I grumble.
"Speaking of cars, I noticed a few new dents in the door. When are you ever going to learn to park away from crowds?"
"I don't know about you, but I just hate it when people park sideways, hogging two spaces," I say defiantly.
For a moment, he is silent, defeated. He hates it when I deliberately misunderstand what he says. As he struggles to compose himself, I decide I can't wait one second longer. Reaching into my pocket, I take out a Snickers bar, rip off the wrapping and take a huge bite.
His face is set in granite, but I go for broke. "Would you like a candy bar?" I ask. His jaw contracts convulsively, and then he says, "Would you mind unwrapping it for me?" We munch together -- two generations bridged, for a moment, by a lowly candy bar.
Finally, the road signs announce "Harrisonburg -- Next Four Exits," and a collection of red brick buildings appear on the right-hand side of the road. We make our way to the apartment building and, for the next hour, carry load after load to the second floor.
At last, it's time to part. "Well, I guess this is it," I say.
"Now you be careful, Mom," he says, "don't floor it on the way home."
We hug one another and then I ask, "Say, do you mind lending me a couple of bucks for gas? I forgot to bring my gas card."
He pulls a couple of bills from his wallet and I extract a crumpled Twinkie and present it to him with a flourish. "Don't eat it all in one place," I say. Act II, Scene III -- The Finale. Always leave them laughing.
A block from the apartment house, I stop at a phone booth and call my friend Joan. "This is Cele -- can you meet me at Anita's for burritos? I can be there in two hours."