It all begins in the Adirondack Mountains where I was working last summer. On my days off, I’d explore the little towns, beaches and tourist destinations where families from across the Eastern seaboard used to flock in the 1970s in droves of wood-paneled station wagons. At night, I’d get myself a cheap room at the Motel Montreal and watch crime reports on local TV to drown out the sound of the couple having sex in the room next to mine. I can’t prove it was the same couple each week, but if there were that many couples with that kinda stamina in remote upstate New York, they really must be putting something in the water.
It was one of my last days off, in the middle of the summer, when I found myself boarding a little bus bound west on a snaking, two-lane mountain highway. It was so hot that my bra was just a hammock for my sweat and the plastic sandals I stole from my mom had burned little flower patterns into my heels and toes. I distinctly remember being upset. Why? I don’t know now. Maybe it was because of the heat or a boy or the lanky strangers who had just catcalled me from the window of their Saturn sedan, but I remember being in a funk. That wasn’t unusual though. My mood had cannon-balled at the start of the summer, and I found myself regularly listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” like a 2015 Tumblr girl.
I was sitting at the front of the bus. A large group of potentially Eastern European women clustered behind me, for some reason all wearing matching paisley scarves, burgundy skirt-suits and pantyhose tucked into the same New Balance sneakers. As the bus careened towards our destination, I wondered what had brought them to this stretch of family-style buffets and souvenir shops filled with counterfeit arrowheads.
All of a sudden, the bus driver slammed on the brakes. Immediately in front of us, there was a man laying next to an overturned Harley-Davidson. An 18-wheeler was stopped beside him with a large dent in its side marking the angle at which he had collided into it. He had been thrown onto the lawn of a putt-putt place, right beneath a sign advertising “One Free Swirl Cone With Every Game At Lumberjack’s Oasis.” Blue water aggressively gushed over a man-made waterfall just behind a gigantic animatronic statue of Paul Bunyan, waving slowly down at the man dying below. He was all by himself, about middle-aged, looking up at the statue as his chest went up and down and then nothing at all.
The bus driver, a little middle-aged woman with a passing resemblance to Baby Grinch, was not pleased by the obstruction. As the man’s breathing stopped, she put the bus in reverse.
“I — goddamnit, OK, OK, folks — I don’t know — well damn, now we’ve gotta take the interstate. I swear…” She cursed under her breath the whole way back.
I remember being at the same putt-putt course a few weeks before, trying to kill time, feeling sorry for myself and thinking about how I would write an article for Cav Daily about how putt-putt is dumb.
As I walked the last three miles back to work down an empty mountain road from the alternate stop, I kept replaying the event, thinking about how quickly it had all ended for that man.
I don’t intend to take this summer for granted.
The way I see it, you only have so many summers left to explore, putt the putt or drive your Harley down a wild mountain highway. No, you can’t guarantee yourself a stellar, sunny, high-serotonin summer, but I intend to spend the coming few months appreciating the opportunities afforded by some time away from my school routine. I can’t wait to bask in three straight months of mint lemonade, public pool access and personal change. I don’t imagine I’ll find myself in this severe a life scenario anytime soon, but in the interim, I don’t intend to take my time for granted.