BUT SERIOUSLY: An old fashioned Sunday Drive is the antidote for COVID blues

Bryan Ethier

My grandfather was a "Sunday Driver," but not in a stereotypically derogatory way. For starters, Grandpa’s sojourns usually occurred on Saturday afternoons.

During these precisely planned outings, he drove neither erratically nor senselessly and aimlessly in his 1967 green and white Ford Comet. Consequently, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever threatened to drive him off the road when he cruised at a comfortable 30 mph.

No, Grandpa redefined the term "Sunday Driver," as I would, some 50 years later. If folks piled into their family cars in the 1950s (before television encouraged them to stay home and live life vicariously) to casually share time together, in the 1960s, Grandpa usually went cruising so he could leave behind the pressures of running a large textile mill in Woonsocket, R.I., and running the household over which he ruled, with a steely gaze.

As the calendar flipped to 1970, I began to accompany him on these well-earned getaways. Then, his casual forays transformed into a precise 30-miles-per-hour jaunt that invariably concluded at the oddest destination: a reservoir at neighboring Blackstone.

"I enjoy coming to the reservoir," he said, one Saturday, in what was a most heartfelt admission for this normally taciturn man. Me? I didn't get it. All I saw was a giant body of water, bordered by a dun-colored hole in the ground the size of a football field. Thereon, big diggers and bigger trucks sat, poised and ready to do something, though, at age 10, I knew not what. As it was the weekend, the machines would have to wait another 36 hours before coming to life. Occasionally, however, a man wearing a beige jacket and a yellow hard hat emerged from a small outbuilding. I imagine he was somehow related to Bob the Builder.

For nearly an hour, Grandpa and I sat in the front seat of his car, watching, well, nothing. Occasionally, I glanced furtively in his direction, to find him smiling wistfully. What was he imagining? I wondered.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity to me, he started the car, and we set off on the 11-minute return trip to his home. There, his icy precise demeanor returned, the thought of the reservoir, the diggers, the “Sunday Drive,” all a distant memory. Similarly, I studied him, from a safe distance, wondering why he had changed during our respite from, reality.

Some 50 years later, I think I understand. We all need a "Sunday Drive" getaway.

Grandpa's was the reservoir; mine is the picturesque Saybrook shore.

That's where I was on what may well become the most picturesque day of the late fall, a Thursday, in early November. The temperature was in the low 60s, and a sun the color of ripe tangerine exploded against a breathtaking sky of paint-brushed robin's egg blue. After driving south on Route 1, I took a left and then a quick right, onto Route 154, my portal to sanity. I set the cruise control in my Hyper Red KIA SUV to 30 mph, just like Grandpa had in his Comet, so I could experience with all my senses every scene the shoreline would provide.

The suburbs changed into the shore points when I reached Knollwood beach, which rippled sedately like silver glass, in the bright sunlight. Harvey's Beach beckoned, but I turned, instead, into the parking lot of Town Beach. I did not stop, because that would have disturbed the flow of my journey to peace. Instead, I slowed the car to a crawl, took a mental snapshot of this eternal ebb-and-flowing world, and continued south, on 154.

Moments later, Fenwick Golf Club appeared on my left, the accompanying course, to my right. This charming world was still Technicolor green, and still inviting to a handful of golfers crossing to and from the course.

Then came my favorite part of the drive, passing over the causeway, cut right into the Sound and bordered by golden-ash colored reeds and sea grass. Beside me, on the walk/bike path, amblers, strollers, and Sunday walkers moved along at a steady pace, oblivious to my presence.

Seconds later, the Saybrook Point Inn, and its impressive villas, sprang up before me. I stopped at the adjacent stop sign, with the first leg of my journey complete. Instead of taking a left and heading back toward the center of town, however, I made a U-turn back onto Rte. 154 and headed slowly whence I'd come. Past the landmarks, the water, the beaches, and finally arriving at the northern-most entrance to the road.

I paused, did another U-turn, and repeated the same “Sunday Drive.” Then I did a complete circuit one more time.

At the completion of my vehicular getaway, some 45 minutes later, I took inventory of my feelings. Gone was the sense of dread COVID-19 imbued in me, most of us.

Gone was the pressure in my sternum that reminds me that I toil in corporate America. Nearly quiet was my ever-busy "monkey mind." Instead, I felt an unusual sense of peace, a growing sense that I was larger than my challenges, bigger than the world, able to create and imagine at will.

My friend Sharon, an intuit that claims to know me well, would say that my “Sunday Drive” opens my soul to God.

"When you drive, you stop fighting your greater self and you allow God to reach you," she often reminds me.

Maybe she is right, maybe not. Maybe taking a “Sunday Drive” on any day of the week merely disconnects me from the burdens of life. Maybe I just need an adult time out, like Grandpa did. Doesn’t really matter why I feel better after taking a driving break from reality. I just know that I need my “Sunday Drives.” Perhaps we all do.

You can email the writer at bryanethier@aol.com.

Connecticut Media Group