“Mom? Why does this freeway have so many lanes?”
“Well Tom, remember when you were six, and the schools were all closed, and you did all your schoolwork as homework? And your teacher came on Zoom every day?”
“Er . . . yes?”
“Well . . . remember, before that time, that your Dad and I went away to work at the office every weekday?”
“What? No. Why would you?”
“Good question, Tom. Why did we? Why did everyone?”
“Dunno. Makes no sense to me. I mean, you only go to the office when you have to be there, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of the whole communism?”
“Yeah, yeah, the commute. What’s the point of commuting if you can do . . . whatever it is you do, from home?”
“Thing is, people used to think that was necessary to come to the office every day before nine, and work from there, and hold meetings with everyone in the same room. People were convinced—your dad and I were convinced as well, that all of us gathered together in the same building was the only way to have a productive workday.”
“But . . . that’s weird. Didn’t you have internet? Couldn’t you Zoom? Or Teams, or whatever?”
“Oh no, we did have internet, and Teams, and everything. But we only used those for people who couldn’t come in to the office.”
“So everyone else would drive to the office every day? That’s . . . like . . . thousands of people, isn’t it?”
“Wouldn’t they fill up all these lanes, then?”
“Yep . . . more than fill.”
“What do you mean?”
“There would be so many cars every morning that they’d all get stuck. And this traffic congestion would mean they’d all be crawling along. This whole stretch of freeway, from where we got on, to the exit for my office, takes about twenty minutes by car. But mornings, your dad and I both spent at least an hour in our cars here.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Not kidding. And all those cars would belch out exhaust fumes.”
Tom mulled this over for a while.
“Boy, I’m glad everyone came to their senses,” he said. “Do you want some water?”
He stopped walking and shrugged out of his backpack. Pulling the water bottle from the side netting, he handed it to Mom. Just ahead, road workers were tearing out the tarmac of the fourth and fifth lanes. Further down the freeway, they could see where the two lanes had already been turned into a strip of greenery, a bike path and a walking trail.
On the three remaining lanes, a steady stream of cars made their way to the commercial district on the horizon. Tom tried and failed to imagine all five lanes jammed with cars. He shrugged and looked to the side. In the distance, the North Sea sand dunes shimmered in the growing summer heat. Mom grabbed his arm.
She was pointing at the nearest field, where a doe was calmly grazing.
“Me too,” she said. “I’m glad too.”
—April 11, 2020