Sometimes the best travel memories come out of disasters. Not real disasters like Tsunamis or Category 5 hurricanes, but mundane problems like running out of gas in Death Valley or getting hopelessly lost in rural Wyoming (pre GPS). They (whoever “they” are) say that during wars or after horrible events like 9/11 or maybe on the Titanic, people rise to the occasion and bond selflessly. I can’t speak for other people, but Michael and I bonded like crazy in the inevitable Roadfood disaster scenarios. It seemed that bad luck and stress juiced us up.
Anyone who knows us well knows there is nothing we hate more then being guests at someone’s home. As much as we are touched by the hospitality and the Mi Casa Su Casa thing, we much prefer anonymous motel rooms, ice machines down the hall, and the freedom to throw towels on the bathroom floor. As house guests, you are expected to be neat, polite, and follow the hosts’ lead. That is hard for us.
Years back, we caved when we were invited to stay with a couple of casual acquaintances in upstate New York. “It’s only two nights,” we assured each other. “How bad could it be?” The answer was very bad.
It started when we were shown the guest room that had a skinny turgid bed whose width would have been adequate for a monastery. Accustomed to our California King at home, we regarded this bed as if it was a bed of nails.
Things went downhill from there. We were prisoners of hospitality, spending hours being taken around to uninviting restaurants and shown the architectural highlights of ugly buildings in the drab town. Our hosts constantly fought with each other, and their bickering was the backdrop of two days in hell. Finally released, we threw our suitcases in the back of our car and headed for California.
The drive from upstate New York to San Diego is a long one. On this particular trip, the miles seemed to whiz by as we gleefully picked apart our stay as house guests. “And the towel!” I said, “I mean, really, it was a washcloth or a hand towel at best and it smelled bad.”
Michael added, “And what about the place we drove two hours for ‘the worlds best ice cream’ that turned out to be a convenience store with frozen Hershey Bars?” The bed alone provided us enough gossip-venom to take us from Erie to Chicago as if we had wings.
Like vultures on a carcass, we picked over every morsel of our two-day stay. If we had had a great time (which would have meant our hosts had an ice machine in the hall and free X-rated movies on TV), I have no idea what we would have had to talk about.
Shared mutual horribleness happened quite often on the road. Sometime it was scary, like when Michael was arrested by tribal police for speeding late at night in the middle of the stark Hopi Reservation. Or the time we spent a day visiting a small folk art castle built by an eccentric old man in rural Ohio who was living out his dream of recreating the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table. He was, of course, King Arthur, and his “knights” were a gaggle of tow-headed eight-year-old farm boys. It took us a while in the car to figure out the obvious: This King Arthur was a child molester.
I cannot count the number of times we had car trouble. Blown tires, sagging fan belts, broken windshield wipers were a weekly nuisance. Our car always seemed to crap out in the worst towns in the middle of nowhere – towns with one service station closed on weekends, or towns where a Volvo was considered as rare and unfixable as a Maserati. Throw in a few bouts of food poisoning or driving two hundred miles in the wrong direction (I can’t read a map). Or the time Michael decided to drive across the Rockies in a white-out blizzard in a VW Beetle with no snow tires. It was only thanks to a tree full of roosting buzzards we saw when we pulled over to scrape ice off the windshield that Michael finally changed his plan and turned back. The buzzards may sound like a theatrical touch, but, hand-on-bible, it was true.
Compared to war, shipwrecks, or plane crashes, these are trivial incidents. But for us they were adrenaline-spiked moments that kept us on the road for forty years. That whoosh of breath exhaled in tandem when we had surmounted another obstacle was the sweetest sound.
Like all old soldiers, we like telling our war stories. What started out as the worst possible things have turned into fabulous memories. In time, we have polished our stories with lapidary precision, smoothed them out, edited them down, and shared them with our family of readers. Thanks for listening.