We were 35 miles from the air show when we left at high noon. Taking wind direction and passenger pounds into account, we figured to be 45 minutes as the Bug rides from wing walkers, sky divers and a full afternoon of death-defying entertainment.
Two and a half hours later we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic and going nowhere. We saw people in cars beside us droop in apparent despair. Worst of all, we saw the first weekend getaway of summer get stuck and knew it was only a preview of weekends to come.
There is something about winter that freeze-dries our memories of the summer past. By the time spring rolls around, all we remember are the beaches and the mountains, the big fish and the easy sailing. The mosquitoes, the sunburn and the traffic get lost somewhere between Christmas and three feet of snow.
For every four hours of fun in the sun, there are usually two spent in a slow-moving caravan of cars getting there. There are beltways and backed-up bridges, exact-change toll booths and cranky drivers who do the rudest things and then turn out to be you. It is almost enough to give the great outdoors a bad name.
"I'm already looking forward to winter." That came from my brother Joe, a normally stoic piano player who spent the weekend in Ocean City and almost six hours on the road getting home. This being spring, the beach crowd was thin. But road construction at the Kent Narrows bridge, just a few miles on the beach side of the Bay Bridge, has made the trip a stop-and-go affair during the best of times.
I drove into my road trap in Northern Virginia. My friend Diamond was riding shotgun. His 17-month-old son Ryan was in the back, strapped in a car seat and napping after a busy morning of eating pebbles and falling on his head.
We were about three miles from the air show at Bull Run Park, cruising rather nicely on Rte. 29 near Centreville, when we crested a hill and hit the brake. Cars were stopped ahead of us to the horizon. On cue, Ryan woke up screaming for some protein to go with the roughage he had swallowed earlier.
"When he gets serious about crying it is no fun at all," said his father. It sounded more like a warning than a statement of fact.
I was in a mild funk to begin with. To get to the show on time, I had deserted my soccer team after the first half of our weekly game. My uneducated foot would not be missed. But we were winning this game, 4-1, and after two seasons without a victory, it looked like I would miss the first postgame party that didn't begin with a toast to tough luck.
Diamond had his own reason to dread the trip. His left leg, in a brace since he fell off a horse two weeks ago, did not fit easily into my car. But for the sake of Ryan, who pays more attention to planes than some air traffic controllers, he was willing to spend 45 minutes cramped and cussing.
As time passed faster than the scenery, the cussing become more imaginative. As a change of pace, we told traffic-jam stories. Diamond has an international collection, from downtown Saigon to rush hour in Silver Spring. The worst was on the first day of a trip to Mexico with his wife. With the van loaded to the roof, they set out from Takoma Park singing "Cielito Lindo." Then they got caught on the beltway between two multicar collisions. They spent that night at a friend's home in Fairfax County.
After two years working as cab driver in New York City, I have some whoppers of my own. But that was business. For pleasure I don't believe in waiting. I figure it's unfair to the place or people you're going to see to be resentful when you get there.
I once talked a dozen friends into abandoning the road to Woodstock with the promise that, "There will be other rock festivals."
After an hour in traffic we began talking about surrender. The air show already had started and we were still miles away. But Diamond had one more story to tell about an old parental debt.
"The first professional baseball game I ever went to was the Washington Senators against the Detroit Tigers. It was at Griffith Stadium. And it was hot. The game went 17 innings. We stayed to the very end and my father didn't even like baseball."
An hour later we were still in traffic. Around each curve in the road was another curve filled with cars. Still there was no sign of a plane or parachute. And now the radio was on, telling us the Bullets were ahead of Boston by two and about to begin the second half.
"You know," said Diamond, patting his hungry son on the head. "The great thing about a kid this age is he doesn't know where he's going so he's never disappointed when he doesn't get there."
The car went out of control, swung into a tight U-turn and headed first for a kid-sized burger, then for a bar with a blazing television set. There will be other air shows.