Teslas. That’s what we counted on the drive home from Long Island to Upstate.
“They’re the ugliest car. I don’t see the attraction,” my father-in-law stated over plum wine and black and blue steaks the evening before. The loud activity that stretched across the wooden farm table froze. Saltwater teenagers, their revulsion highlighted by the sunburns that hovered beneath their eyes-the sole spot where sunscreen seems to die- barreled against him.
Held captive under the tranquility of the lighted cabana, my father-in-law’s 70-year-old philosophy was challenged and pummeled by heavy waves of teenage angst, their parent’s ode to Elon Musk, and Number Three’s intolerance for speaking ill against a car that plugs itself into a wall.
“Look at the style on that one,” Two states as a two-door, blue sports model zooms past us on the L.I.E–its transparency changing from blue to purple under the sunlight as we leave our vacation behind.
“How can he think a Tesla is ugly?” Number One retorts from the backseat, his AirPods the marker of his previous silence.
Tired and sun-drenched, our bodies thirsting for water, our own beds, and real food, we continue to count the Teslas as we reflect on our trip and dream of life back on the island. Number Three wants to go back–but only for the sake of my brother-in-law’s large saltwater pool.
“Your friends have pools,” the husband retorts.
“Not by the beach!” Touche! Three, I mentally note as I ponder what would have been if we’d stayed or if we returned to live our lives there once again.
The husband engages Number One in questions about sports cars as they pass, which he answers with quick semi-accurate responses.
“We can’t quit counting!” Number Two frantically announces from the third row as a wave of car sickness takes me out of the game. His large dark eyes hover above coolers, golf clubs, and beach chairs.
We pass the sign for Coxsackie, NY and I wonder if this is where the childhood disease was discovered.
Two begs for Mcdonald’s.
The husband states we’re not stopping. I cringe at the back and forth dialogue as I know he’ll eventually be outnumbered and give in to the whining and cries of starvation. Someone will need to pee. McDonald’s will be there and we’ll spend the next 30 minutes slurping on sodas and feasting on the salty fries-reminiscent of the ocean upon our lips.
“Would you drive one of those?”, I question as we pass a large RV. I note that brown and tan must be their signature colors.
The husband is confident that he could maneuver the oversized moveable vacation home. As he explains driving mechanisms, cost, and places to park, I find myself imagining a world of cross-country family trips to the Grand Canyon, the desert, California, and Washington.
We’ve taken trips with the kids for as long as I can remember. The fighting from the backseat has replaced the bottles, pacifiers, and hours of non-stop crying during Number Two’s colic months.
“Why don’t you go to a rest stop to try and get the crying to stop?” my sister had asked me upon a visit home.
“You never stop,” my uncle retorted. “You just keep going. You just need to get there.”
One hour left and thirteen Teslas in the count, One begins making plans with his friends, Two is discussing fishing and requesting a private outing with his father, and an email reveals that Three needs football cleats for practice the next day.
Three also needs to go to the bathroom.
“Can you hold it?” the husband begs. Three performs a vigorous and extended Michael Jackson crotch grab–holding it just as his father asked. I look around the car for empty bottles, in case ‘hold it’ falls short.
“Is the Tesla the only car Elon Musk designed?” One questions. His conversation and engagement puts everyone on pause, and I immediately react–googling Elon Musk and head into a fury of podcasts, interviews, and anything I can find to intrigue One and keep him in the conversation longer. My heart is full of pride as I imagine the impact Musk’s speech is having on One. I picture One telling this exact moment–the place and words that made him think of what life should be– during his college commencement speech. Upon a burst of giggles, I turn to find One harassing Three with his barefoot wiggling in his face–the threat of his big toe touching his cheek less than a centimeter away.
“Knock it off!” the husband yells and snaps off the Musk podcast for the ball game.
Two is beaming that One and Three got in trouble, One retreats back to SnapChat, and Three happily asks questions about the team that just hit a line drive to first. Moments from now, empty McDonald’s cups will spill out of the car, sand, fries, and an extra shoe that we do not own will reveal the five-hour damage we’ve inflicted on our non-Tesla car. But for now, lost among the smell of dirty feet and a seashell that must have held a living creature when we swiped it from its home, I’m forlorn. Tomorrow, I’ll be waist-deep in laundry, work deadlines, football practice, taxi transport for One and friends, and Two’s undeniable request to recreate funnel cakes on our stove. The husband will likely visit the car wash after work, returning home with a sand-free, shiny car–all remnants of our family vacation washed away, and life as we know it back in play again.
And then Two counts the final one.
“Sixteen!” Two exclaims as we turn off the Thruway. “We passed 16 Teslas. Wait till I call Papa and tell him he knows nothing about cool cars. What a Boomer!”