So, we’re on a road trip. We’ve spent five days in the car together. Fortunately, we have a Bill Bryson audiobook, and there are plenty of weather changes and road construction to lubricate our conversation.
We (that would be I) decide to stop for a nice dinner at Smoke and Porter, a restaurant that’s a half-step above Applebee’s. After I criticize where he chooses to park, we unfold ourselves and get out of the car and perform our synchronized choreography of stretching frozen joints.
He looks at me and says, “Uh, are we going to …”
“Talk?” I shake my head and wave my paperback novel at him.
Talk? Whatever could we talk about. We’ve been together for 47 years. There is not one damn thing left unsaid. If it hadn’t been that monsoon that swelled up over the highway that afternoon, we probably wouldn’t have said a thing to each other all day.
We are seated in a room full of people. The menu inspires some conversation.
“What are you having?” he asks, and I know why.
“I think a cheeseburger. Why?”
“No, I want my own food.” Of course, I don’t have to say this. He knows this because we’ve had this conversation before, the one where he proposes a misguided notion that I eat less food. Yet still he pouts.
After we order, a full entrée for each of us, we look at the half dozen couples around us. Some have that randy look that says that the food is not the only delicious thing on their night’s menu. But there are three couples about our age, and they’re talking. Animatedly. With rapt attention.
By this time, we both have our phones out, checking to see if Donald Trump has tweeted or if Hillary Clinton has perished from gingivitis. Then we get down to business, me with my novel and him with his newspaper.
After we eat, I lay down my napkin and get up. “I have to …”
“I’ll meet you . . .” he says.
“Could you get me a . . .”
“Large or . . .”
“Small with cream.”
We return to the car after a meal where we’ve exchanged, maybe, a hundred words.
Words like: “Have you seen my glasses.” “How much tip did you leave?” “You forgot your sweater.”
We continue our journey. It’s important you know, dear reader, that I don’t love to travel. In fact, I don’t like to move from my recliner unless there’s a compelling reason. Like starvation. Urination. Or the threat of world annihilation.
And yet move we do. A lot. We eat out most days, often with friends. We travel to far-flung places, like Tanzania, Antarctica, and Vietnam. We actually move to different houses, nine over the course of our marriage, five in the last decade.
What makes us traipse around? We need catalysts, something to talk about!
Back in the car, he starts the Bill Bryson CD again. It’s his newest, The Road to Little Dribbling, and it’s not very good. Bryson’s curmudgeonly and drones on about how things used to be better in the old days. If we wanted to hear that, we’d talk to each other! “Sick of it,” I say as I push the eject button. I know he’s sick of it, too, even though he hasn’t said so.
“Do you want to take a walk?” he asks. He pulls off at a trail head without waiting for an answer because he knows I don’t want to walk, I never want to walk, but we should walk because it’s good for us and, in the end, I’ll be glad I did.
As we encounter dog walkers, he knows without asking which ones I think are cute: not ones that are too low to the ground; not ones with squished in faces or pointy noses; nor ones too low to the ground; not those that have that slobbery beard thing going on; definitely not ones whose butt holes are on display like bullseyes.
When we arrive at the hotel–one he’s selected because it’s one of the slightly upscale chains I prefer, ones that have no surprises–he checks in while I pitch the day’s detritus of thermal cups and Pringles cans.
We carry in our bags with barely a word. He flushes the toilet and turns on the TV and checks the Internet connection, because it’s his job to see that things work. I lie down for a nap, because it’s my job to make sure the bed is comfy and the sheets have an acceptable thread count.
Before the day is through, I call my dad and he calls his mom. We text the kids to tell them we arrived safely. When they get the text, I imagine they think, Huh. They’re out of town?
While MSNBC or Big Bang Theory plays, we both get on Facebook, and before I know it, we’re reading articles to each other, sharing youtube videos, and checking out our kids’ posts to reassure ourselves that they’re okay and that we’ve been good parents.
And then, all cozy in our separate queen beds, we reminisce about other vacations: the dude ranch in the Rockies; the farm house in South Dakota; the family camp in Vermont; the college tours out East. We’ll agree that the Salem Witch Museum, the Hershey Chocolate Factory, and the Disneyworld teacups were a bust.
“Remember when Allison got carsick driving Clingman’s Dome?” I say.
“What about when we accidentally spent the night in the wrong beach house in the Outer Banks?”
“Hey, wouldn’t mind having some of those “special” brownies we got in Amsterdam.”
Then he says, “We’ve come a long way from Donna Court.” And without saying another word we’ll both be transported back to Evansville, Indiana. To a sleazy motel room in 1970, where we didn’t talk much either.
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