Marin and Novato are two mysterious and powerful witches.
Santa Rosa, in the heart of Sonoma, is 90 miles from Los Altos, which means the trip would typically take about three hours during any part of a weekday when there might be a stretch of traffic. It’s in the mid 80’s in Los Altos at departure time. It’s expected to be around the same in Santa Rosa at arrival, but even the most direct route will pass through various microclimates. Daddy decides to put those microclimates to use.
D (pulling onto the highway): Look, guys. It’s 86 degrees.
F: What do you mean?
D (tapping the thermometer on the rearview mirror): See. Right here. 86.
C: That’s hot. That’s like in the 90s.
D: Well, not quite. It’s more like in the 80s, but it is hot.
F: How hot?
D (rolling their windows down): Stick your hands out. (They comply.) That hot.
F: That’s hot.
C (hair blowing wildly as the Suburban reaches cruising speed): Daddy, can you roll my window back down?
D: Back up, you mean.
C: Yah. Back up. Thanks, Daddy.
F: It says 87 now! That’s hotter!
D: So it is. What temperature do you think it will be when we get to Sonoma, guys?
D: No! Sonoma is hot.
C: One hundred. I bet it’s one hundred.
D: Well, I don’t know if it’ll be that hot, but I wonder if it will go up or down or stay the same between here and Sonoma. I don’t even know.
F: I don’t know either, Daddy.
D: Well, you better watch.
From the intersection of Interstate 280 and California State Highway 92 to the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, topics range wildly: why sharks bite people, how a car turns the energy stored in gasoline into motion, what lungs do, favorite colors, what the expression “bad blood” means. All the while, they dutifully report a steady decline in the temperature. It breaks 70.
D (crawling): Can you see the Golden Gate Bridge?
C: Is that it!?
D: Um, no. That’s another highway. It’s joining this highway. Together all the cars on that highway and all the cars on this highway will make their way across the bridge. At a snail’s pace.
F: I don’t think snails move very fast, Daddy.
D: No, they don’t. And neither do we.
D: Oh, you’re right! Good eye, Fisher. Do you think we’ll get below 65?
C: I don’t think so.
D: I don’t know, Cory. Marin is a very powerful witch. She lives in this area, right across the Golden Gate Bridge. That area’s called the Marin Headlands. They named the whole area after her. And her breath is pretty cold. Well, not North Pole cold, but cold for California. When she casts her spells, you get a chill.
The weather cooperates perfectly. On the other side of the bridge, clouds have descended to car level, and they are moving fast from left to right, west to east, over the highway. It’s cool. A little spooky. And chilly. 65…64…63…62…61!
F (behind Daddy’s driver’s seat): Roll down the windows, Daddy!
D (rolling down their windows): Okay! Guys, I can’t close my eyes, but you can!
F: What do you mean, Daddy?
D: I’m driving, so I can’t close my eyes, despite the fact that we are moving at 10 miles per hour. I can’t close my eyes, but you can. For just a second. Close them, guys! (They close them.) Do you feel it!? Those are clouds coming in Fisher’s window, moving through the car, and leaving through Cory’s window. Do you feel it, guys?
C: Daddy, can you touch a cloud?
D: It’s hard to, but a cloud can touch you. Can you feel it brush your cheeks? Marin is in a mood today. She’s sending those clouds fast. Open your eyes. Look!
Clouds are streaming fast from left to right, down a ravine, over and through nearly parked cars on the highway. It’s an awesome sight, better than the Golden Gate itself today, which is saying something.
D: Good eye, Fisher! Do you think Marin will cast another spell to get us below 60?
C: In the 50s?!
D: I don’t even know.
She doesn’t. As the car crawls across Marin, the kids announce every tick upward: 61…62…63…64…65…66…67…68…69…70. At some point, Daddy rolls the windows back up. The conversation again dances around the steady climb back up the temperature ladder. The rung at 70 is a long, long one, as the Suburban leaves traffic behind and starts the swing past the seven or so exits for Novato, at the boundary between Marin and Sonoma.
D (suddenly interrupting random talk about why horses eat grass): Guys, get ready!
F: What do you mean, Daddy?
C: For what?
D (tapping the rearview mirror): What are we at?
D: Can you feel that?
D: Marin’s sister, Novato. Can you feel her gathering her strength?
C: Witches aren’t real.
D: You can’t feel that?
F: What, Daddy?
D: Get ready.
Daddy silently crosses his fingers. Conversation drifts to something about Papa and boats and water when…
D: Guys, look!
D (pointing to the rearview mirror, last reading of which was 70): There!
F: 88! (Cory gasps.) 88! Roll down the windows, Daddy!
D (genuinely shocked that the usual jump should have been so dramatic this time): I told you! That Novato is mad today!
F: What do you mean?
D: From 70 to 88?
D: It has to drop a little. Whoa, guys, that was some spell! That Novato is definitely in a mood today, too.
Daddy watches even Cory experience doubt as they both assess the situation, arms out their windows. It’s now hot. It doesn’t feel 88 hot, but it IS suddenly hot.
D: Guys, have I ever told you why Marin and Novato don’t get along?
D: Well, remind me sometime. You should really remind me some time. That story’s a good one. Marin likes the fog and the clouds and the cold ocean water, but Novato she has always wanted to live somewhere warmer, to get away from her sister, but she can’t.
C: Why can’t she?
D: Oh, That is one thing that I am going to tell you some time. Of course, we don’t have time for that right now, because…
D: …because I have to concentrate right now on driving. It takes some concentration to tell that story. It’s a tough one, the one about Novato and Marin…
F: Tell us…
C: Please, Daddy…
Daddy demurs in favor of further distraction. Cows on Cory’s side. Horses on Fisher’s side. Sebastopol! “That’s where Kohl and Cinder are from!” By the time the car pulls into the driveway of the rental house in the hills of Santa Rosa a bit later, the gauge still reads 84. Fisher is hungry, Cory has to pee something fierce, and Daddy’s legs definitely need a stretch…
…but a three-hour drive, at points through heavy traffic, has just passed with minimal how-much-longerism. Daddy stretches his legs. Cory pees. Fisher is too busy stumbling around a very impressive rental situation, yelling “This is so cool!” to remember that he’s hungry. Eventually, there’s a dinner, of sorts. Swimsuits are located. The right button to start the hot tub is pressed. Daddy gets rum into a glass, along with a splash of Coke, from one of the cans that did NOT fall out of the back and roll under the Suburban.
D (watching the blue of the sky above darken): Guys, we’re here.
C (Fisher under water): Daddy, can you tell the story about why those witches don’t get along?
D: Oh, I can, Cory, but right now there are too many stars to focus on. See that one…
C (looking up): Where…
D: …and that one over there…
F (emerging): What are you saying, Daddy?
D: Stars, Fisher. The stars.
He pulls his goggles off and looks up. A long time seems to pass.
F: Daddy, how do stars get born?
All the minutes of the next hour merge together into a single moment of joy. A bit later, as the kids sleep on either side of him, Daddy, head spinning a bit, struggles weakly to construct why Marin and Novato might have ended up at such odds…she wanted…
…but she couldn’t…
…then she grew angry…