I, uh, don’t know if you know this about me, but I really, really love driving. Although having friends or other loved ones in the cabin with me is enjoyable, my favorite driving is when I’m by myself on an open road. It’s when I think things through and relax. I either put on a playlist of truly background music or the sounds of the engine that the automakers of this decade have allowed the driver to hear.
On Sunday, I headed down to Hampton. My mother and mother-in-law neither will confirm nor deny that they coordinated me coming back down to pick up Christmas presents after we just were there for Thanksgiving. Additionally, I used my last vacation day to take my mom to the record room of the circuit court clerk’s office. I totally forgot the main thing I went in there for, but she at least got to find what she was looking for.
But that was Monday. Sunday night was The Drive.
The second time I ever went to Virginia Beach was in 2001. The first time was in 1992 when I was about to have my first unsuccessful surgery to stop snoring. Never mind that my house is only about 30 miles from the Oceanfront. Never mind that I had extensive trips throughout my life in the other six cities. It just always had this feeling of being aaaalllll the way over there and not offering anything I could get from the other six cities, like a beach or stores.
Lately ― I think because I’ve been away from the Atlantic Coastal Plain ― I’ve also been taking walks alone on the beach. So I set out to the one beach in Hampton Roads that I knew for certain did not close at night.
I took the “long way” to the beach. After I crossed the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, I immediately got off and took Ocean View Avenue/Shore Drive to Atlantic Avenue.
I passed Sarah Constant Beach in Norfolk. It was the first stop on the last trip my father and I had together on my last day of eighth grade in 1997. I remembered that someone was getting baptized in the Chesapeake Bay that day. In 2003, I met someone who mentioned getting baptized at Sarah Constant Beach in June 1997. There was a point in my life when I had a lot of coincidences like that.
I stopped at 33rd Street, because symbolism, and headed to the Atlantic Ocean. I was near the Neptune statue, but that wasn’t on purpose.
I love our beaches in the off season because they’re so quiet. Growing up, I grew to hate the summer tourism season because the roads became more clogged and the beaches full to the point that most request to go were turned down or turned into regret upon arrival.
Then Labor Day comes and goes. The tourists go away but it’s still warm enough to enjoy things. I have countless memories of the beach in those waning warm days. In high school and into college, there also was overnight camping near Grandview Beach at a spot we called The Land Behind the Tree.
Seeing the beach this late in the year was new for me. I encountered only nine people. Atlantic Avenue was dormant.
I took a slightly circuitous route home. I don’t like going back the way I came whenever I take “quick” trips, so my goal was to reach Interstate 664. That meant I had the opportunity to hit all seven cities, and I really wanted to go to Chesapeake. The family of maternal grandmother’s father goes back to at least 1819 in Norfolk County, which largely became the city of Chesapeake. Additionally, I’ve always been fascinated with the South Norfolk neighborhood in Chesapeake. It once was a separate city and then merged with the county to become the current city. It’s the only truly urban-looking part of the municipality.
I cruised down Virginia Beach Boulevard back into Norfolk, across the Campostella Bridge, down Wilson Road into Chesapeake and across the new Jordan Bridge into Portsmouth. As I headed up Elm Avenue and Effingham Street, I thought about how many people would have conniptions over me riding around P-Town at night. I quickly headed to the Western Freeway and into Suffolk, reaching my seventh city of the day.
Sunday night in the 757. A rare occasion of traveling for miles and miles without rage-inducing traffic. It was the first time in a very long time that I took a substantial ride across so much of my home. I missed being on well-lit surface streets with speed limits of 45 and 55. I missed being able to go 15 miles in a straight line and still be in an urban area.
There was a point when I pulled over on Virginia Beach Boulevard and got out of the car again. I took it in: the straight, flat roads, the air rich with the scent of land exposed by low tide. As I grow older, my irrational fear of Hampton Roads slipping into the sea sooner rather than later increases. I thought about where in Chesapeake or even Suffolk would be high enough for my liking.
I looked back at the eight lanes of U.S. 58, the road I once was stranded on in 2004. Once the longest U.S. route wholly in one state. The great line on the bottom of the commonwealth I’ve driven all but 98 miles of. In a few hours of me standing there, those eight lanes would be filled to the brim. And I would hate it.
I almost missed living here. Almost.
I disliked being there growing up for myriad reasons. The time and physical distance have softened the memories. I like this feeling of nostalgia I’m starting to have for the place. That circle I drove was a beautiful 78 miles.