Ah, the open road! Just you and your man. The adventure! The romance!
The drama. The despair.
Road trips with your significant other can be filled with wondrous things. The sense you are part of something greater. Wilderness! Americana! Route 66! They can be filled with silly, spur-of-the-moment stops at The World’s Largest Thermometer, the curious Mystery Spot, and other quirky places that prove just what an fun, spontaneous couple you are. (You are. You really are!)
OR it can be filled with bed bugs at fleabag motels, resentment about who pays for what, and sciatica resulting in zero sex at said crappy motel.
I took such a trip in my twenties. I was living in Orlando, Fl and had just been accepted to graduate school in California. Knowing I needed my car in L.A. I planned to drive alone across the country. That is, until my on-again, off-again stand-up comedian boyfriend decided he could make a make a better go of it in L.A. and should come with me. Boom: I found myself with an instant road buddy (and a why-not-see-where-this-goes boyfriend).
It all began so well, the first few hours in the car. Our TripTik from AAA! A Playmate cooler filled with Diet Coke, apples, and M&Ms! Of course the beginning was fine.
So what if he was hogging the radio station? So what if I was craving Wendy’s when he was set on Taco Bell? It’s a long trip…we’d get to it all. We’d compromise.
Though I wanted to be economical about the trip, Jeff was insistent we spend as absolutely little money as possible. This meant staying with people he knew along the way. Our first stop was a miserable day in New Orleans with his friend Bert, whose six-month pregnant wife I had just met randomly chose me to confide in that she didn’t want to be a mother (awkward).
Moving on. Next we stayed in Dallas with an ex-boyfriend but now-friend-of-mine (awkward for Jeff. See? Now we’re even).
After the millionth green miles-to-go sign and the umpteenth closed rest-stop, the enthusiasm for the trip was starting to fade, and everything -- from his choice in music, to the sound of his weird shallow breathing -- was getting on my nerves. The burps that were weirdly endearing in Jacksonville were disgusting by San Antonio. The material he tried out was funny in Tallahassee, stale by Tulsa, and offensive by Phoenix.
Somewhere in Arizona, we were supposed to stay with an old comedian friend of Jeff’s, along with his children and family. During dinner, he constantly, snidely referred to me as a shiksa (the word itself not necessarily a perjorative) but the way he said it, over and over again, was making me, at the least, uncomfortable. It was like a, WTF why can’t this guy let it go? I let it pass. After all, they were nice enough to have us, and Jeff and I were compromising. That’s what you do in relationships, and in situations that challenge you, I reminded myself.
But later at dinner, when the friend commented that “some girls,” the way they dress are “asking for it,” I said oh HELL no, we are not staying here tonight. I demanded we ditch their offer to stay over and search out our own accommodations.
Jeff was peeved. “Come on,” he whined. “We save, like, eighty bucks, if you could just relax.”
I told him he could relax here: me, my car and his stuff would be at the Motel 6.
It’s not that there weren’t fun moments. We stopped in Roswell to don alien costumes. We took pictures of each other weeping into our wallets that we’d spent our last bit of cash seeing the “world’s largest crater.” We stuck our arms and heads outside the cool desert air and witnessed the most brilliant, bright stream of stars I’d ever seen. Movie montage moments.
But here’s the truth about movie montages: they are compressed good-times. You know what’s in between? A lot of really shitty times.
We stayed at certifiably dumpy motels the rest of the trip, some clean, some not. Most were off the highway and too loud to get a decent night’s sleep. So, when we got to Flagstaff, and my lower back was spasming from the thirty million hours in a Ford Taurus, I wanted to stay someplace nice. Just one night, I asked - one nice hotel night before I had to be a poor graduate student again, and he had to be a broke comedian.
Jeff wasn’t biting.
We ended up in a bed bug ridden, unkempt Howard Johnson’s, where in a fit of fury, I threw a shoe. At his head.
I do not look back fondly on the trip. Although we stayed together for a few months (and I actually made him a photo album of our terrible road trip, trying to make light of it and capture the good times) any goodwill I had about the trip was destroyed when a few years later I received a box in the mail: the fucker had sent my lovingly-made photo album back to me. Back to me! I was the one that had been looking on the bright side, giving him the benefit of the doubt in the first place!
Perhaps it’s not the road trip itself that created such misery; it was our already mostly destroyed relationship that made the trip unbearable.
So here I am, fifteen years later, justifiably skeptical and downright scared to do a proposed, upcoming cross-country road trip with my new beau. He is moving from NY to LA, in large part, to be with me. This is a totally different circumstance than before. We are different people. I am certainly older and wiser.
But what if it’s all a ghostly repeat of road trips past? What if we can’t compromise on where we stay? What if he wants to power through, doesn’t see the beauty in stopping at the Blue Whale of Catoosa? What if, after the first twenty-two hours, we run out of things to talk about? What if one of us thinks we’re having a wonderful time, and the other is miserable?
They say you really get to know someone when you travel with them. What if we realize we’re just not compatible? What if we realize (gulp) we ARE?
I can’t be the only one wary of repeating such a mistake: what do we think, ladies? Are romantic road trips all they’re cracked up to be? Will this trip be everything the other one wasn’t? Or am I setting myself up for disappointment, irritation, and resentment?