Nobody asked my advice, but I feel pretty sure any kind of premarital counseling should include a mandatory trip for the two of you. That way, you’re welded together in either tiny airline seats or navigating terra incognita from the cramped front seat of a car. You find out whether the other person is a peppy and relentlessly driven sightseer, say, or a calmer, more contemplative sort who views the world from a barstool or coffeehouse and orders another drink before venturing out.
My husband and I are in the latter category. Some people would call us travel slugs. Since almost everything sounds better in French, we both strongly prefer the term flaneur. We stare, we stroll, we sip, we sit, we surmise.
Even so, the two of us have our differences — and there’s nothing like a little travel to tease out those differences and force you to decide out whether they’re amusing eccentricities on the other person’s part or felony offenses punishable to the full extent of the local police state.
We got off to a fine start flying to Boston, with both of us agreeing that the person who gets the aisle seat should be the menopausal woman. Well, anyway, my husband agreed once I parked myself in the aisle seat and refused to budge. Everything went quite smoothly till we got to the question of a rental car, with his usual insistence we lease the cheapest car and mine that tin cans are for soups and not for said menopausal woman. Fortunately, for some reason, we got a free upgrade to a fullsize car.
“Do you want to return it with a full gas tank or an empty one?” the woman behind the counter wanted to know.
Jeez, talk about a no-brainer. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s the frantic, last-minute hunt for a gas station. I will pay any price and bear any petroleum burden to avoid gassing up a car at the last minute. If you want to see what a total meltdown disaster that kind of cheapness can be, please check here, for our personal story of jetlag, angst, triple-digit temperatures and four flat tires because of someone else’s insistence on filling up the goddamned gas tank.
“We’ll fill it up,” my husband said, in the slightly panicky voice he speaks in when he fears I’m about to make an expensive choice.
We drove to Cape Cod. We met people, including my virtual — and now real — friend, Sandy, of Wellfleet’s famous B&B, Chez Sven, who blogs about local and environmental issues here. (She and her husband, Sven, are fascinating. How many people do you know whose grandfather was a friend of the last Russian czar, Nicholas II? I have a friend whose mother’s first name was Princess, but I don’t think that counts.) We drove to Provincetown and Truro, we complained about too many tourists, we ate enough seafood to grow gills.
When it was all over, we returned our rental car with a full tank and flew back to Austin, where it was, predictably, a zillion degrees. The land was parched and the hot wind was combustible, and it hurts to think it’s not even August yet.
Standing outside the airport, with traffic swarming around us and the heat blasting full-bore, my husband muttered something about how we should really take a bus home. I ignored him and hailed a taxi. We rode home, listening to the cabdriver’s story about bicycling cross-country with an HIV-positive team. Later, I told my husband we wouldn’t have heard such a great story on the bus and he said I was wrong. Every day, he hears fascinating stories on the bus.
His stubbornness, his cheapness, his sense of fun. Oh, hell. What could I do but find it amusingly eccentric?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)