Forever is a long time. So is 4EVER. Can any love last that long?
Brian thinks he first noticed it around 1986, not long after someone — Ben? — painted it. At the time, Brian was the art director of The Washington Post Magazine, which was printed in Strasburg, Va. Each week he’d drive out to the plant to check on the printing process.
“I saw that thing every single trip,” he said. “It was really fresh back then.”
Is Ben and Nan’s love still as fresh? Or has it faded like the paint?
“I always thought about them,” Brian said. “Who is this dude who did this? If Ben did it for Nan, is he up on this overpass, bending over, writing upside down? Was a buddy hanging onto his ankles?”
What Brian really wonders is: Are they still together?
If Ben and Nan were teenagers in the mid-1980s, they’d be in their fifties now. Do they chuckle every time they see “BEN + NAN 4EVER” while driving to visit the grandkids?
“What did Nan think?” Brian mused. “Was she sold? Did that clinch the deal?”
Or was she mortified, more NEVER than 4EVER? Did Ben paint those block letters late one night convinced it was exactly the way to convince Nan of his undying love? But when Nan saw it, did she wince? Was it just more proof that Ben didn’t know her at all?
Is this Jack and Diane from that John Mellencamp song or is it a less melodic, more discordant tune?
A lot of the overpasses on I-66 are being replaced. Though this one has survived so far, Brian sometimes wonders if it will be demolished. Overpasses don’t last forever. Nor does paint. Did Ben and Nan?
“Somebody out there in the Manassas/Prince William County area probably knows who they are,” Brian said.
Brian no longer drives out along I-66 to check on print jobs, but he does drive on it plenty. He traded an art director’s computer for a pie-maker’s oven. Brian is owner of the Red Truck Bakery, with locations in Warrenton and Marshall, Va. They make very good pies and other tasty baked treats.
Brian and his spouse, Dwight McNeill, live in Arlington, which means Brian is driving back-and-forth on I-66 all the time. Recently he was in Marshall for Red Truck’s company picnic. Before he left for home, he carefully packed hamburgers, hot dogs and side dishes for the couple to enjoy at dinner.
And then I-66 did what I-66 often does: It ground to a halt. CRASH AHEAD, read one of VDOT’s variable signs, ALL LANES CLOSED.
Safely stationary, Brian texted Dwight to say he would be late.
Then Dwight did what he often does: “He always jumps online and tracks the problem,” said Brian. “Sometimes he’ll even say, ‘You should get off on Route 50’ or something.”
Dwight not only communicated the various traffic reports to Brian, he pulled up VDOT’s traffic cameras. And then it dawned on Dwight that he might actually be able to find Brian on one of the live feeds.
“Red car behind you?” Dwight texted.
“No,” Brian responded. “Silver. Next to me is white van with ladder.”
“No shortage of those,” Dwight responded, flicking through the camera feeds.
“I’d keep telling him the mile markers,” Brian said. “He would scroll down and find them.”
And then around Mile Marker 62 — after Brian had passed a portable toilet in the median and was a few lengths behind a tractor-trailer from Target — Dwight spotted a familiar silver Ford Escape on his computer screen. “I saw you!” he texted.
Said Brian: “There’s so much angst normally to getting stuck in traffic, this made it feel like somebody was with me.”
In fact, that whole traffic jam had a festive, communal air to it.
“There was a guy singing opera with his windows down,” Brian said. “All of us locked eyes with each other and were laughing. It truly made it as enjoyable as it could have been.”
I’m taking some time off. I should be back in this space on Aug. 1. Until then, stay cool.
This column originally reported that a Red Truck Bakery location was in Manassas, rather than Warrenton. It has been corrected.