Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Middle of Nowhere

I'm writing from a hotel in Marianna, Florida, where we've stopped for the evening on our way back from a weeklong vacation. This is not the first time we've stopped here--in this town, at this hotel. We prefer to split the 11-hour drive from NOLA to Orlando in half, and Marianna is just west of Tallahassee, easy to access, quiet, and cheap; we've stayed here a handful of times over the last few years. There's not much to Marianna: a Wal-Mart, a couple of vaguely depressing places normally referred to as "family-style" restaurants, a gas station, a smattering of churches and gun shops. To my spoiled eye it looks like not much more than a glorified rest stop, although I imagine the locals would disagree (vehemently).

Our stays are usually blissfully unremarkable, except for the last time, when we stopped on our way back to New Orleans after a 3-month evacuation. It was mid-November, and Sydney was about 7 weeks old, still only sleeping in one-to-two-hour fits; I was like the walking dead, really just going through the motions, both desperate to get home and completely terrified of what I would see, how I would manage to care for an infant in the middle of a ruined city. We stopped for the night in Marianna, had dinner at Sonny's (where a preternaturally large toddler became obsessed with Sydney, either because she seemed a tiny version of himself or a potentially tantalizing appetizer), slumped back to the freezing cold hotel room and settled down for sleep--or what passed for sleep in those days--with the baby in the bed between us. It was so cold: I had all of my clothes on, including my jacket, and Sydney nestled tight against me in the dark. I was creeping towards the edge of oblivion when suddenly, from the second floor, the boom-boom-kaboom of a bass drum jolted me awake, followed in short order by a cacaphony of sounds emanating from the sorts of instruments one might find on a high school football field during halftime. We weren't sure at first what was happening--in those hazy days (after The Storm, after The Baby) the line(s) between reality and fantasy blurred just a little--but a few more minutes of raucous entertainment confirmed our suspicion.

A high school marching band had checked in. And they were awake.

I remember shedding a few tears of exhaustion/frustration/rage/helplessness over the course of that wretched evening, but now it just seems funny. And this time, I am happy to report, our stay has been satisfactorily mundane, marked only by Sydney's occasional squeals of joy as she spies a pile of rocks in the corner of the parking lot, or takes to counting the plastic bath toys at her feet ("Two, two, two! Yee-ayy!"). I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, the free continental breakfast, and a no-rush ride back to our city, the best city in the world. It was nice to get away, but really: there is no place like home.