I had been married to my ex, Joe, for almost twenty years and NEVER took him on a road trip.
The idea of bringing a man on a road trip seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.
My road trips were private matters.
I wanted to be completely alone.
If I wanted to listen to music… I did.
If I wanted it completely silent in the car for hours on end… it was.
This was my No Man’s land.
My best story ideas, song ideas, and big thoughts on life and spiritual matters came to me on my road trips.
Highway 10 from Long Beach to Santa Fe New Mexico alone, silent, could solve a host of problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking about them at home.
And so, it was with great reluctance that I allowed Stephen to join me.
Stephen: summer of 2007, one year into our relationship.
And how, you must be wondering, did I allow myself to cave?
Well… he said, “I’ve never been on a road trip before.”
“Never?” I said. “Not even with your guy friends?”
“Nope,” and then his shoulders slumped and he made a little sad face. “Never.”
And since I cared for Stephen, and knew the value of a good road trip in a person’s life, my heart felt for him and so I invited him to come along.
Of course once I invited him, I immediately started saying things to get him to back out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let someone in, to be close, to give up my private experience.
“You know…” I told him. “I do what I want on the road.
“I don’t set a destination.
“I don’t go to any specific location.
“I drive as long as I want.
“I sleep in small motels in off beat towns. And,” I added, “I’ve NEVER taken a man with me before.” I paused here for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
He nodded his head, excited to be invited on a road trip, and I knew this would be a turning point in our relationship: We would either survive this road trip together and be bonded for life or, we would burn out somewhere close to Albuquerque, Stephen shouting at me to “STOP THE CAR” before kicking the door shut, flipping me off, and hitching a ride to the closest airport where he would fly home, never to be seen again. He may even be silently “wishing me the best” (the ultimate fuck you really) before boarding a plane and drinking as many cocktails allowed on the two and a half hour flight home to Los Angeles while praying that I would die in a fiery car crash somewhere outside of Nashville.
(Please insert large sigh here.)
Weeks went by and Stephen excitedly planned for his big adventure. I saw him programming a GPS and I actually started to sweat. I NEVER used a GPS; that was cheating. I felt anxious but I sucked it up each time I saw him pore over a map, his reading glasses high on his face, his eyes looming large magnified through the glass as he fantasized about all of his future destinations and scribbled furiously little notes and words in his mini notebook.
“What’s that?” I asked one day.
“I’m preparing,” he said with pure glee.
I looked at him as if he were a bad student in my class. “Don’t,” I said sternly, my face stone. “Just stop.”
He looked at me as if I was speaking some foreign language. It almost seemed he was ignoring me before he went back to poring over his maps and scribbling furiously.
This is a mistake I thought. We’re going to be in a fight before we even get out of L.A. county.
But I held my tongue, shocking I know, but I did and when the day arrived for us to leave, Stephen was prepared.
It looked like I had the ultimate Boy Scout ready to set off with me. Make that an Eagle Scout.
I have never seen anyone so organized for a trip. He even had his passport in case we decided to cross a border.
We left Long Beach at 4 am, stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks for coffee and were on the road and on our way to Maine.
California to Maine: One of the best drives ever.
There is nothing like watching the sun come up from the highway. It is one of my all time favorite moments in life.
The road. Complete silence as the skyline goes from jet black to a purple opaque with a hint of orange before the sun bursts into bright yellow streaks and illuminates the blue sky.
Only, that’s not what happened.
What happened was TOOL was blasting from the speakers as Stephen bobbed his head to the music, tapped his foot against the dash, drank his coffee with gusto and I sat in silence, big headed baby, pouting as I drove the car.
I was miffed. Distraught. But Stephen was so pleased to be on a road trip I kept quiet.
I headed for highway 70. It is a beautiful path, not stark beauty like the 10, which is actually quite a lonely road… the 70 is America in all of its patchwork glory.
Coming over the pass into Colorado, the river running along side it, boxed in by mountains until you rise again and see the Great Plains laid out before you. It is a drive that makes the traveler a hopeless romantic.
And Stephen said, “I thought you were taking the 10?”
I tried not to make a face.
“I’ve programmed my GPS for the 10,” he said in a pitiful whine of a voice.
“Well,” I said. “Unprogram.”
I could see that he was bent. Perhaps perturbed. Maybe even annoyed.
And I thought… don’t you dare… don’t you dare…. who are you to be any of those things on my road trip?
We drove all the way to Vegas without a word, Stephen, heavy metal thumping, while I looked out the window and prayed for the audio system to fail.
By the time we hit the plateau above Grand Valley, Colorado I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the next two weeks but then the road opened up, the view down was amazing, and Stephen turned off the music which left Colorado ahead of us, and a quiet car to take in the beauty.
The rest of the day was really uneventful, as was the next, we discovered a common love of Sirius’s stand up comedy channel and laughed all the way to Kansas where things then took a turn for the worse.
We were tired from driving, hours and hours of travel, when we finally started looking for a hotel room around 10 o’clock at night.
This is when we heard two words that I never imagined could be so dreaded:
“What?” I asked.
Then there were three dreaded words:
Kansas State Fair.
Every hotel within 100 miles of the Kansas State Fair was booked solid and Stephen and I were beyond exhausted.
It was the first time ever I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, Stephen had already flopped over into the back seat and passed out. I was glad that he was quiet and resting but still totally annoyed that he was at that moment… no help.
I prayed that I would make it to a hotel before I nodded off and thankfully, around mile 83, there was one room left available at a Best Western.
We pulled in, checked in, and passed out in a matter of minutes.
The next morning, I was “hung-over” from such a long day of driving the day before that I didn’t want to get up but Stephen wanted to get moving.
“Get up,” he said. “Come on get up.”
I was tired, angry that he was bossing me about, and pouting because I knew that if HE hadn’t been in the car with me I would have found a hotel easily. I wouldn’t be getting up early right now; I would be following my OWN time frame and completely ALONE. I climbed out of the bed in a fit; threw on my clothes and shoes and reached to grab the keys and stomp to the car when Stephen reached out and grabbed them.
“I’m driving,” he said.
I gave him a look, ready to kill him, but he just turned and walked out of the room and headed to the car unwilling to give me my way.
I climbed into the passenger seat, slammed the door and sulked. We weren’t even out of the parking lot when I said, “Go through the KFC so at least we can get something to eat.”
Stephen rounded the corner for the drive-thru and thought for some reason that the lane he was in was not for the drive-up window.
“It is!” I shouted. “Trust me. Just go right there!” I pointed towards a loud speaker and watched as Stephen ignored me, passed the window and made a loop around the front of the KFC.
“No,” he said calmly. “I’m sure that was the wrong lane.”
I felt anger seething out of every pore. I set my jaw so firmly that it must have looked like it was wired shut and believe me, in just a matter of minutes Stephen was going to wish it had been wired shut.
Just as Stephen was making the turn to go back through the lane I’d originally told him to get in, a large white bus full of black Baptists rolled in front of us and I watched as the Minister ordered 15 buckets of chicken, obviously for his entire congregation, who I could see through the large rectangular glass bus windows smiling and happy, seriously spiritually enlightened people, radiating God’s joy as they waited patiently for their chicken and I actually went insane.
I don’t even remember what I said to Stephen, but it was every angry thing you say to someone when you “kick the cat”….
Why did I bring you?
What were you thinking?
Why couldn’t you listen to me?
Who the HELL do you think you are?
LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE GOD DAMN BAPTISTS EATING MY CHICKEN!
By the time we got to the window I was spent. Which, often happens with us passionate HOT HEADS leaving our quiet introverted family, friends, and lovers totally stunned by our outbursts and often feeling MORTALLY wounded while we HOT HEADS just move on to the next big thing to be passionate and upset about.
Stephen, however, had had enough.
He pulled up to the window to pay the KFC kid and wait for our chicken while I, once again calm, said, “Could you please open the trunk so I can get something out of my bag?”
“Just wait,” he said.
His tone one of intense loathing…
“Wait for what?” I snapped and popped out of the car and headed to the back of the trunk.
And at that moment, the KFC kid handed the food out the window.
Stephen looked at the kid, looked in the rear view mirror at me and totally pissed, floored the car. The wheels screeched, gravel and dirt flying, my mouth dropped open as I watched my door fly shut, and his intense burnout up onto the asphalt highway, before he hit the brakes hard and laid a big skid about twenty feet from the drive-thru window.
I stood there dumbfounded.
The KFC kid’s arm; just dangling out the window with a big bag of KFC floating in mid-air waiting for no one to take it.
I paused a moment. If I weren’t so fucking angry I would have been on the ground in tears of laughter.
I steeled my gaze on Stephen as I walked over and grabbed the bag from the kid, walked up to the car, opened the door and climbed inside where I threw the bag of chicken on the floor, watching biscuits roll everywhere, and shouted, “I’m not even hungry any more.”
Stephen could have given a shit. He burned out again and hit the Interstate at an alarming pace. Anxious, I was sure, to find the nearest airport and fulfill my earlier prophecy.
Well, fuck him.
We both stewed in silent obstinance across the entire great state of Kansas before we finally just busted up laughing hysterically, barely able to breath, tears streaming down our faces, as we crossed the border into Ohio where I then picked up a cold, hard biscuit from the floor, and handed it to Stephen as a peace offering.
It was the only fight we got in during the entire two weeks on the trip and I believe the event brought us closer together and truly made us a couple.
After that, we went on to see thousands of wild geese land on a secluded lake somewhere in Ohio, scare ourselves to death sleeping in Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall Rivers Massachusetts, nap on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lawn in Salem, and drive through the Bad Lands of South Dakota on our way home, a place Stephen had never been, and was so thankful to see; the desert at dusk, the look of the sand and the cliffs, so alien and mystical, really something everyone should experience in a lifetime.
I will never regret that fight at the KFC or letting someone in, and sharing my road trip.
What I find as I grow older is that staying and building relationships, even when at times you want to run away, desert all, find security and safety in yourself, believing that it will be easier somehow, protect yourself from hurt or build a wall so that people can’t get in, only makes you the person who is unwilling to take the road trip, to see what lays before you, what discoveries are out there to find, what common interests, ideas, spiritual moments you can share, even if it is only a ridiculously stupid fight behind a bus load of Baptists somewhere in Kansas.
The beauty is in the shared story… our shared story.