Last weekend, Ed had to work and Noé paced the house like a cat on crack cocaine, so I took him for a drive. Drives with Noé have been our go-to during the trickier parts of Covid. And Marine Drive is our favorite pandemic driving destination.
Tucked into the car, I thought of our many drives on this roadway since Covid hit and the many ways Marine Drive has changed with the times. I realized I’d been trying to outdrive this damn pandemic on this damn road for almost two years.
Noé and I started driving Marine Drive in March 2020 when in-person school and the rest of the world shut down. After morning online classes, we would head to the car. Life then was still very locked down and driving was one of the few things that offered both freedom and safety. We drove east from 33rd Avenue along Marine Drive until we hit Blue Lake, and then we would turn around and head back west on the same road. Marine Drive boasts great views of PDX Airport to the south and the mighty Columbia River to the north. Noé likes watching the planes take off and land at PDX. Amazon and FedEx delivery planes dominated the runways back then. My eyes usually moved to the other side of the road, towards the serenity of the river that divides Oregon from Washington. I’ve always sought out great bodies of water to calm my mind when it is otherwise hitting the red panic button.
Together, we watched the Oregon winter gradually lift from the inside our silver Honda CRV. Blooms formed on the trees lining the river and snow slowly receded from the mountains surrounding us. On clear days we had a view of Mt. Hood, still vanilla with snow. Good ol’ ever-dependable Mt. Hood. Always positioned east in that exact same spot on the horizon. It towered in our windshield as a beacon of certainty among the chaos.
As the temperature warmed into April and May, we pit stopped at Brighton Beach. The beach, near the 33rd Ave turnoff and Salty’s restaurant, is admittedly sketchy. You wouldn’t catch us there anytime after dark. But Noé and I enjoyed playing in the sand and in the small rolling tides, the beach otherwise empty of visitors. We sat on oversized logs dotting the beach and wished into the waters many an overcast spring and fall afternoon. I could read on a blanket and let him wander the beach without worry. It was about the most carefree either of us felt during that stretch of time. I told Noé it was our “secret beach,” even though every Portland teenager had recreated and experimented on that rocky strip of sand since the 1970s.
Noé and I kept driving straight through the Summer of 2020. Our afternoon visits to Brighton Beach turned to morning walks along the shore to avoid sunny masses of bodies and booming music as Covid cases and restrictions eased. We noticed garbage piling up along Marine Drive. And then, a never-ending trail of tents and rusted out RVs and illegal bonfires popped up along the bike trail that runs between the street and the river. Commercial airliners returned to the airport runway. Later that winter, part of the airport parking lot would transform into a gigantic maze of cars — a drive thru vaccine clinic. Ed took Noe (twice) through that very line.
Through 2021, our Marine Drive adventures abated as school and work returned, and life normalized a bit. We headed back to public transportation and theaters and restaurants and other places where we might interact with others. But this winter, we’ve tried to isolate once again in an effort to keep virus transmissions down and school up. And Noé and I find ourselves Thelma and Louise’ing it back on Marine Drive. On my worst days, I drive and look out at the water and the garbage and wonder how we will ever get ourselves out of this literal and figurative mess.
Two years into this pandemic and the only real certainty is that there will continue to be lots of uncertainty. Will my kids have school today? Is there another, more dangerous variant on the horizon? Will the garbage and recycling pickup come today?
Will Noe and I be driving Marine Drive forever?