This time of year, I occasionally hark back to that June cross-country drive I undertook with my girlfriend four years ago. It was to road trips what the Titanic was to pleasure cruises.
We'd been together four months, and we thought we were compatible -- so much so that we set out together in my aging BMW to attend a wedding in Ohio. But 11 days on the road disavowed us of that notion. I think the adage "You don't know someone till your car overheats 10 minutes outside Lockjaw, Wyo., and you forgot water and the Triple-A card" would apply here. On the road, together 24/7, in the absence of pretense, we quickly learned we were different types.
She was the "five-star hotel, mint on the pillow" type; I was the "discount motel adjacent to Denny's" type.
I enjoy a leisurely pace, driving five to six hours a day; she urged me to cover territory with an intensity normally seen only in Iditarod sled dog racers. As she mushed me on for 14, 15 hours a day, the road whizzed past as if we had to get a pizza to Dayton by Thursday or it was free.
As we chewed up highway, it became clear her chipper demeanor during our dates back in Los Angeles was a facade masking a more critical personality. Her take on the following as we took the scenic route to Ohio: the Grand Canyon -- "overrated"; Mount Rushmore -- "cheesy"; Lake Michigan -- "filthy."
By the time we'd reached the Central Plains it was obvious we were a couple with only one thing in common: our complete mutual inability to read a road map. After getting lost outside Colorado Springs, blowing the radiator and engaging in a heated argument over whether Iowa is the Show Me State or the Hawkeye State, we were one dead aunt tied to the roof of the car shy of being the family in "National Lampoon's Vacation."
After attending my friend Troy's wedding in Dayton (her whispered take on the bride -- "dowdy") we headed back to L.A., disagreeing on everything -- the places we stayed, the music we listened to.
She pretended to like my music back home. Now, she dropped subtle hints, like holding her hands over her ears and shouting, "Please turn that noise off." Admittedly, back home I hid the fact I'm so into early Wang Chung that I sometimes take both hands off the steering wheel and play air bongos.
The elephant in the room, er, car: Back in Los Angeles we were trying to impress. On the open road that didn't seem important.
We were barreling down an interstate in the homestretch when she asked to stop for a pack of smokes. Which raised the question, "When did you start smoking?"
"When I was 12. Why do you think my place reeks of air freshener and mouthwash when you come over?"
"I asked if you smoked when I met you," I said.
"I know," she said. "I lied!"
We skipped a planned stop in Vegas (her opinion of Vegas -- "overrated") and instead of staring out at the Strip from a suite at the Bellagio found ourselves looking up at the World's Tallest Thermometer ("really overrated") in Baker. I love that gigantic tube of mercury, and not in any phallic symbol way. But I knew the odds of getting her into a restaurant called Bun Boy were nil, so we were soon on our way.
Back in L.A. we parted relatively amicably. As I drove away from her apartment (my take -- "filthy"), it dawned on me that we were lucky to learn this now.
And once again I could enjoy "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" in peace.
Brad Dickson can be reached at email@example.com.