For decades Michael and I have heard people tell us that we have the best job in the world. I can’t disagree. After all, what’s better than being your own boss, having a carefree life where you can go anywhere anytime with the sole purpose of finding something great to eat? Countless foodies have asked if they could sit in the back seat of our car on our next road trip. “What a dream that would be!”
Ask Michael if it was a dream and I suspect he would get that long suffering look that (in the almost forty years we were married) I knew so well.
It wasn’t traveling that was the problem, and it certainly wasn’t eating. It was me.
I was not always the picture of mental health. I am now a poster child for the free and independent woman who hops on jets and crosses oceans effortlessly by herself. But when we started, I was riddled with anxiety, neurosis, and hypochondria. I was a whack job.
Shortly after Michael and I were married in 1970, a string of horrible events happened. My mother and father died, my two same-age cousins died, my dog died … and let’s leave it at that for now. It was a hideous time of my life. Here is how I handled my grief: I isolated, I sulked, I raged, I developed so many phobias and strange behaviors that absolutely nobody but Michael could stand being with me, which was perfect because I couldn’t stand being with anyone but Michael.
Yes, it was a dream job to develop the concept of Roadfood and be pioneers of regional American food. But back then I had more on my mind then finding a great chicken fried steak. My attention was focused on my unbridled agoraphobia: not necessarily a welcome mindset in a travel writer.
On our first trip across the great divide, in Colorado I was convinced that the air in the Rockies was too thin to breathe. I insisted we buy an oxygen tank so large that we had little room in the car’s trunk for luggage. Michael told me I was confusing The Rockies with Mount Everest, but I had my own take on things. Then the panic attacks set in. I had no way to cope with them except to plead that we turn the car around right away and drive home. One such attack happened in Salt Lake City and was for some strange reason set off by a rather horrible lithograph on the wall of our motel room that depicted Utah seagulls that looked as large and mean as Godzilla. The next morning we headed 2500 miles back to Connecticut.
Another panic attack occurred in Wyoming. We were driving through Yellowstone Park at a time when it seemed we were the only visitors. We had the whole place to ourselves. We stopped at a pristine lake to take snapshots. My eye was drawn to a pretty pebble on the lake shore. I picked it up and held it in my hand. Intuitively I knew it was a “lucky rock” that would prevent more traumatic things from happening in my life. “What’s that?” Michael asked.
“A lucky rock,” I replied. Suddenly the rock lost all its charm. It morphed into an “unlucky rock.” As we drove away, I rolled down the window of our VW and tossed it out.
“Why did you do that?” Michael asked.
I was too embarrassed to explain the rock’s evil shape-shifting. “Please stop the car,” I said. Now the rock was back to being lucky, so I needed to find it. At this point Michael should have achieved sainthood because he walked up and down the side of the road for an hour trying to find one rock among a hundred thousand lookalikes. He couldn’t find it. Of course, the only solution was to turn the car around and drive home.
Then there was the cornfield. We were in rural Iowa, and Michael – always an early riser and dedicated exerciser – went for a run through the nearby cornfields. I sat on the edge of the bed and started to shake. I looked out the window and didn’t see him. That scared me. Still in my pajamas, I jumped into the car and took off looking for him as one would do with a lost dog, yelling, ”Michael, Michael, where are you?” I saw a lanky man-shaped object in the distance. It was running. I gunned the car and as I got closer I was ecstatic to see that it was Michael. I wish I could say Michael was equally pleased to see me, but instead he picked up speed and headed between the cornrows where I could not drive. Back at the motel, I greeted him with my new mantra: “I want to go home.” And we did.
I could tell you a hundred more stories about how we drove each other crazy on the road, and maybe in time I will. But I would like to end this by saying I got over being really nutty. I could not have done it without a good shrink, meds, and, most of all, a friend who loved me even when I didn’t deserve it.