Shortest route to an argument


HERE'S THE way it usually goes:

"I just passed a sign that said we're now on Alternate 30. Do you see it on the map?" he asks nicely.

"Nope, it just isn't marked, but then this is last year's map, but there's some mustard on the symbol . . . what are we meant to be on?"

"We are supposed to be nearing Interstate 82; do you see an interchange?" he continues, but his voice is getting strident.

"Nope, there's a green snakelike marking that looks like it's about 5 or maybe 10 miles up the road, but I don't think it is an interchange . . . maybe it's a park, aren't they green on maps? . . . let's ask at the next filling station. OK?"

Then he says, "We haven't seen a filling station for 22 miles. This is West Virginia." He raises his voice, and he's put the pedal to the metal.

I can't fold the road map back into its original form. (Can anyone?) We have now gone, according to the road map, about 50 miles off our destination, and I am thanking God that no one is waiting at an airport or their front door for us. But he won't ask anyone where we are, because he is now pretending that he knows where we are, even though we actually crossed a state line, and he didn't even notice.

We are lost.

Another recent scenario: I'm driving and he is in the navigator's seat. Only he does not have the map open because he basically does not believe in maps.

"Dear," I start out -- always a good way to preface a road question -- "do you think we've gone past the cutoff to Winneville? We seem to be driving through something that looks like a swamp."

He says, "There are lots of swamps in Georgia. You're doing fine [I hate his patronizing voice] -- keep on going. I will know when we come to state 301, there was a small church and there's usually a vegetable stand there."

"But that was five years ago. Let's ask the farmer on that combine."

I slow down to ask the farmer, and my navigator yells, "He won't know a thing, he's probably never been out of Hotterville." Disparaging remarks follow.

Now my partner is getting mean, and he's mad as hell that we have not seen a church for 20 miles and we've passed six vegetable stands.

Now don't tell me this hasn't happened to you while on a car trip.

Data has it that money, sex and in-laws are the contributing factors that break up relationships. But I think that a long car trip is a "drop dead" scene with a spouse and has to be a downer to any marriage or any vacation.

Surely, I don't have to tell you that when you have either ffTC supposedly sleeping baby who seems to require more diaper changes than usual and more bottles on a car trip than at home, you long for home or singlehood.

Or if you have sulking teen-agers who didn't want to go on a vacation with you in the first place and wanted to go the ocean with their peer group, you will wish they hadn't invented cars. But children in cars is another column.

The main thing to remember is that men don't like to ask directions and don't like to stop.

They want to get where they're going in the shortest time, even if it means going by way of Utah to get to Florida.

The other thing to keep in mind at all times is that not all road maps are created equal. Interstates are supposed to be indicated with a shield on the map -- blue at the bottom and red at the top. State roads are in the shape of a circle with the route number in the center, sometimes. But recently on my North Carolina map the interstates were a black shield, and U.S. highways were a red-bordered shield.

And sometimes the town you want seems to be located in the ocean, according to the map, because the person who made the map -- and I like to think it was a man -- didn't have room to put the name of the town where it should be, especially if it is a name like Nanatawickett.

Divided highways are usually marked by deep red lines, and your unpaved highways look like rabbit tracks on most maps. And what they call "earth roads" look like railroad tracks or chicken footprints. Watch out!

Maps with their keys and legends don't tell you which road is under construction, which one has the cleanest bathrooms, Classic Coke and the deepest pot holes.

I have sometimes found that long car trips are great times to talk about your medical problems, in-laws or career changes; that is, if you don't get lost, know where you are going and don't have to use or fold a road map.

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