I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania. I think.
Last night, the missus and I drove from Boston to New Jersey, most of the way in a steady wet snow.
That sounds pretty awful, but it’s one of the easier trips on me. When we’re setting out for uncharted destinations — like, say, New Jersey — she drives and I navigate. That’s the only way it can possibly work. She describes herself as a ‘nervous passenger’, and I drive on the mean streets of near-Boston every workday. So there are a few of my methods — and gestures, and certain choices of language — of which she doesn’t especially approve.
At the same time — and by her own admission, so I’m allowed to say it, too — she’s sort of easily distracted when she’s supposed to be reading a map. I’ve never quite understood how this works, to be honest. At work, she’s as focused as a laser. When she’s onto some task or other at home, she’s a bulldog — relentless, unyielding and unmercifully persistent until it’s finished. I should know. Usually, that task is getting me to do something I was supposed to have done days or weeks before. Trust me — she doesn’t give up.
“Lord only knows where this hotel actually is — my money’s on Nebraska, but that’s just a hunch.”
But stick her in the car, without a steering wheel in front of her? It’s over. Shiny objects, pretty trees, some kind of — ooh, look! We have a radio! Let’s play with that! Heater on. Heater off. Look, a squirrel. Hey, what’s in the back seat? An ice scraper! Coooooooool.
Okay, it’s not quite that bad. Probably. It only seems that bad when you’re driving in unfamiliar territory in the dead of night, low on gas, and your lovely, brilliant, beautiful wife holding the map says:
‘Okay, you should turn…um, RIGHT THERE! Oh. Sorry. Didn’t see it in time. Well, that’s okay. It says the next exit is only twenty-two miles. We’ll be fine.‘
To be fair, we always have been ‘fine’. All except for that throbbing vein in my temple that I can’t seem to control, and the fingernail troughs she digs into the passenger side armrest when I actually attempt to perform one of the blink-of-an-eyelash ninety-six degree tire-screeching turns that she suggests.
So now, she drives. And I read the map. Plus, my sweet-ass new phone has a GPS hooked to Google Maps, so I’m firmly rooted in the passenger seat on exploratory trips for the foreseeable future. Maybe someday — like if she gets a temporary-ADD treatment drip installed in the glove compartment and a heads-up Mapquest display implanted in her frontal lobe — we’ll be able to switch. For now, she drives. I navigate. And we stay married.
Of course, that means that a trip like yesterday’s is very different for the two of us. Her job is keeping the car on the road, so she’s white-knuckling it on any sharp turns, trying to stay in other cars’ wheelpaths, constantly scanning for a lane less snowy.
Meanwhile, I got us to the turnpike already. We’re traveling at twelve miles an hour. And she doesn’t want to hear any of my damned fool advice on how to drive. So I get a few free hours to kill, with periodic stops for pee breaks, caffeine restocks and to clean the salty crap off the windshield. Beats a day at the office, frankly.
Once we hit Jersey, of course, I had work to do. More than usual, thanks to some pretty cryptic directions we copied down. But we got where we were going, and made it in safely for the night. Had some food, drank some champagne with our friends, got some shuteye and drove here. To the hotel. In Pennsylvania. I think.
See, we’re in one of those confusing parts of the country where at any given moment, you could cross over from one state to the next. And then, if you’re not careful, to another. We got here by driving most of the way on the Jersey Turnpike. Ten minutes later, and we were in Pennsylvania. The wedding we’re attending tomorrow is in Delaware. The bride is Ukrainian. The groom is Canadian. Lord only knows where this hotel actually is — my money’s on Nebraska, but that’s just a hunch.
You’d think I’d be accustomed to this sort of thing. I grew up in a ‘Tri-State Area’ myself, after all. The difference there, though, is that there was nothing nearby in any of the three states that people would bother traveling back and forth for. Sure, further in I’m sure there were tourist attractions and rest areas and the World’s Largest Somethings of Something. But in our little region — not so much. I lived in the single city-sized spot in the one of the three states that sported one, and that bought me a passable Mexican restaurant and a decent public library to visit. Which was a few tacos and a Dewey Decimal system more than you’d find close by in the other two states. So it was a ‘Tri-State Area’ to me in name only; there was very little confusion about which state I was in, because I was rarely in any other than my own.
Here, it’s a whole new ballgame. Wilmington, Delaware is just down the street. Philly, PA is a half-hour away. And in New Jersey, there’s… well… I don’t know. The Turnpike was pretty nice, as these things go, I guess. We’re really not seeing Jersey’s good side from this angle, though, from what I can tell. Assuming Jersey has a ‘good side’ to start with.
I just checked the map to see if I was missing anything. And in Jersey, I wasn’t. Nothing big close by that I’m familiar with, anyway, which doesn’t mean a whole lot. Once you get past Jersey City and Atlantic City, I think the next thing I know about Jersey is that they made some film about a girl there once. Or made it somewhere else and said it was in Jersey. Or kidnapped a girl from Jersey and put her in a movie. Something. What am I, Gene Shalit over here?
I did, however, see that Maryland is also a short jaunt to the west. Making this now a quad-state area. I don’t see how the hell people get around here without a compass, a GPS and a road sign every quarter-mile with big red letters reading:
‘YOU ARE CURRENTLY IN THIS STATE: ______________‘
And I’m the one who’s navigating. Just imagine if my wife and I switched places for the drive back. We just might end up in a hotel in Nebraska. Yeeks.