It’s late January 2020 and I’m driving my then-14-year-old son, John, to high school. Unlike his twin sister, who walks to our neighborhood school, John attends a high school ~2.5 miles from our house as he’s part of the school’s pre-professional dance company. Thus, twice a day, John and I make the 10-or-so minute drive together; the streets are set up in a grid pattern, so we have almost countless routes to take.
Fairly quickly, though, we establish a can’t-miss attraction: AAA Heating and Cooling.
[record scratch] Wait, what?!?
For some keep-Portland-weird reason, this repair service posts the most clever, witty messages on its business sign, a different question or quip on each side.
I’d never really noticed the mini-billboard before transporting John 2x/day, yet now we eagerly await new messages, whether “DEAR KARMA I HAVE A LIST OF PEOPLE YOU MISSED” or “IT WAS US WE LET THE DOGS OUT” (I mean, what the what?) We chuckle the rest of the way to school, discussing how quirky the messages are and wondering who crafts them. We vow we’ll remember them, but quickly realize they need memorializing so I buy a pocket notebook adorned with a kitty face that we keep in the van, and John hurriedly jots down the best musings. The sign becomes our shared “thing.”
Yet, I confess, the unrelenting nature of the twice-daily to-and-from trips wears on me. I find myself daydreaming about John’s junior year, when he’ll be able to drive himself.
Then, on Friday, March 13, all those drives—and laughs—come to an abrupt halt when Portland schools, like institutions worldwide, shut down. Suddenly I possess the clarity to see those drives for what they were: precious one-on-one time with my beloved son, who opened up and shared on those rides like he rarely does at home. I’m so verklempt about school being closed and dance rehearsals being canceled, I can’t bring myself to venture by our beloved sign.
On an early May morning, though, I find myself within a block of our pals at AAA Heating and Cooling. I’m in a (rare) upbeat mood thanks to a peppy playlist so I brave the billboard—and the memories. There, in the already-bright sunshine, it says, “HEY, CORONAVIRUS, I HATE YOUR HAIRCUT!,” which makes me snicker. But it’s the silly declaration on the back, “WELP, IT LOOKS LIKE JAY-Z HAS 100 PROBLEMS NOW” that makes me LOL.
I laugh like I haven’t in weeks. So hard tears spring to my eyes. And as the tears roll down my cheeks, mixing with my sweat, I realize my laughter is morphing into crying. A short-but-much-needed catharsis, as my thoughts flash back on drives past the sign, with John telling me about the tap number he’d demo’d that day or the French guest choreographer, creating a new ballet piece for the company.
After a few minutes, I wipe the sweat, tears, and snot off my flushed face, press the Resume button my GPS, and head for home. In the intervening 9+ months, I’ve started to run by AAA Heating and Cooling more often.
By the time school re-opens next September (please, oh, please!), then-16-year-old John might have his driver’s license, but there is no way I’m letting him drive solo to school. Sure, there’s the safety standpoint, but this mother runner’s reasoning is purely emotional: I crave that repetitive drive like I never could have imagined in The Before Times.