For as long as the two of us have been together, driving has been a minefield. It’s not a rare dynamic in relationships, I know, but we have a bad habit of planning trips that exacerbate it. Our journey to see the Latrabjarg cliffs in Iceland ended in an extremely tense day down a “scenic route” along safety-rail-free blind turns hugging the craggy Westfjords. A road trip to Venice somehow involved us careening down the mountain passes of the Dolomites during the foggy, muddy spring season, each insisting that the other would be responsible for what seemed to be a clearly imminent catastrophic accident.
And, last summer, driving from Santa Fe, N.M., to Salt Lake City, we found ourselves approaching the Moki Dugway, rising above the Colorado Plateau — a great, gravelly taunt of a road carved into the side of a looming mesa. The approach, snaking between large warning signs that read like hair-metal album titles (“sharp curves, steep grades”), is not designed to put the driver (or, for that matter, the passenger) at ease. We braced ourselves, teeth gritted.
But the drive up Moki was a breeze. O.K., maybe not a breeze, but not the disaster our personal history might have predicted. I don’t remember a whole lot of the drive itself, so intent was I on not careening off the side of the road. But I know we didn’t yell at each other, and I know the view from the top, overlooking the Valley of the Gods, was worth every milligram of expended adrenaline. I remember that view pretty well because my phone’s wallpaper is a photo of Ari standing above it, smugly smiling, arms thrown back, in the pose of a conquering hero.
I don’t think that Moki is, necessarily, the place to go if you want to make peace with your partner’s driving (or passengering, for that matter). But if you drive enough gravel switchbacks with the same person, you start to learn to read each other as well as you read the road. And if you do that, you can get pretty good at navigating the hairy stuff together. Or maybe I’m making too much of a dirt road. We’re renting a car in Naples, Italy, this spring. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Max Read is the editor of Select All, New York magazine’s technology site.
The Marital Benefits of a Canceled Flight
By UNA LAMARCHE
My husband had been on hold with the Delta agent for about 10 minutes when he began to visibly implode. His ears went from pink to an almost bioluminescent red; the veins in his neck seemed to pulse in time with the sheets of rain beating down on the terrace.
“I know there’s a Nor’easter,” Jeff said, pacing the taupe carpet. “But we’re supposed to fly home tomorrow. Are you telling me there are no flights into New York tonight? Are you saying we’re trapped in Puerto Rico?”
Let me pause here. Yes, I know. On the spectrum of unfortunate events, this ranks pretty low. But we were on the tail end of a vacation with our 3-year-old son, having spent a week marinating in chlorine and eating our collective weight in poolside chicken fingers. We’d also had a serious fight just before leaving Brooklyn — a tearful debate about whether our marriage could survive our differences — and so had been inoculated against enjoying ourselves. We were desperate to escape back to the bleak Northeast, where at least the weather matched our moods.
“All flights are canceled,” Jeff said, covering the receiver with his palm. “Nothing to J.F.K., La Guardia — not even Newark.”
“Shh,” our son, Sam, chided from the bed, where he was watching Netflix on my laptop.
“I guess we’re stuck,” I said with what I hoped came across as a sympathetic shrug. I was trying to achieve a state of Zen, mostly by drinking a steady stream of rum-and-Cokes. Outside, the rain had suddenly abated, giving way to sun and cerulean sky.
Jeff cursed and hung up the phone. He went out to the terrace to smoke and I followed him. We stood at the railing and watched as other families flocked out of their rooms, running barefoot toward the beach.
“We can’t leave for at least two days,” Jeff said, tapping his cigarette and inadvertently casting bits of ash into a brilliant flor de maga. His jaw tensed; he knew as well as I did that we couldn’t afford two more nights at the resort, plus meals. The trip had already been a strain on our double-freelance income.
During our blowout just a week earlier, I had wept and keened and threatened divorce. There hadn’t been an inciting incident, just years of stress over parenting and finances that had slowly worn us down. Our marriage felt like a once-uncharted exotic isle that had become mundane and claustrophobic. And now we were marooned on that metaphor.
“We can’t do anything about it,” Jeff said firmly, as if to convince himself.
“Nope,” I said, as the speakers surrounding the pool turned back on, blasting Katy Perry.
“Well,” Jeff said, “I guess we’ll have to get ourselves some cocktails with stupid names and suffer through another beautiful day in paradise.” Then he smiled at me. A small smile, and a bit forced — the kind you summon at the end of a long day, in surrender — but it was enough.
We weren’t going to solve our predicament that afternoon, as our hotel tab clicked ever upward and the runways in New York sat empty. We would have to stay in a holding pattern. But we could try to make the best of it.
Sam was beside himself when we told him we were staying. He ran for the door so fast we couldn’t even get his flip-flops on. Within seconds we would be one of those barefoot families running into the waves.
No one would know the difference.
Una LaMarche, a writer based in Brooklyn, is still married to Jeff. They have not gone back to Puerto Rico.
Why I Wanted to Marry My Translator
By STEVE FRIEDMAN
South of Moscow and east of the Black Sea, I decided to marry my translator.
It was there, close to if not in Ukrainian airspace, that a Russian woman (not my translator) rammed the back of her seat into my soft American knees and, when I yelped, turned and glowered at me, then said something I didn’t understand while she spat in my direction, on purpose or accidentally, I couldn’t swear. My fellow Aeroflot passengers seemed to be drinking inordinate amounts of vodka, swallowing large, greasy chunks of gray, malodorous cold cuts and bellowing what sounded like angry team anthems. Jittery accordion sounds came from the plane’s speakers, accompanied by aggressive harmonica noises. The plane bucked and shook, and I thought I might vomit. That is the moment I fell in love. Her name was Yulia.
It was spring, 2003. We’d been in Moscow four hours earlier and were flying to Krasnaya Polyana, a ski town so impoverished, I’d read, raw sewage was dumped in the river a mile from the village, and wild pigs roamed the streets. Vladimir Putin reportedly had plans to modernize the area. Ski Magazine sent me to investigate.
Jet-lagged, nauseated, moderately terrified, I turned to Yulia so that she might translate the lady’s growls. But she was sleeping. I had known her for three years (she was a former student), but only then noticed the lushness of her inky eyelashes, the grace of her long, tapered fingers. I closed my eyes and saw our lives happily entwined on the stark and wind-swept Siberian steppes. A tidy yurt was involved.
Should I wake Yulia with a gentle kiss, then whisper, in Russian, a phrase I’d memorized back in New York? “You look just like Anna Kournikova, only prettier.”
Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.
In town, a ski shop attendant slammed a fiberglass pole on a table, inches from my head, and yelled (Yulia translated) that my feet were so unusually shaped (they are not!) that I couldn’t expect rental boots to fit perfectly. A taxi driver tried to make us pay for a tour we didn’t request. A waitress suggested boiled bear tongue.
But I had Yulia. Competent, beautiful Yulia. Wise Yulia. Excellent eyelashes. Yet over the next three days, even Yulia let me down. “Enough with the pigs,” she told me when I asked her a sixth time to inquire if others had seen the elusive porkers. “Relax,” she said when I demanded to know what a gas mask, with instructions, was doing in my hotel room. When I complained that the bathrooms on the slopes were disgusting, she sighed and rolled her black-as-the-Norilsk-night-sky eyes.
“Misattribution of arousal” is a term in psychology that describes the tendency to wrongly attribute feelings of excitement — shallow breathing, heightened blood pressure and flushed skin — to romantic and sexual longing. One famous experiment involved two groups of men walking across two bridges, one stable, one swaying. After crossing, each man was approached by a woman who offered her phone number. The swaying-bridge walkers were more likely to call. Some doubtless thought they were in love. Really, they were just scared. Below, I always imagined, raged a crocodile-infested river.
After returning to New York, I never saw Yulia again. Last I heard, she was running a yoga center in India. The village we visited was developed, and in 2014 it served as a Winter Olympics site.
If I had opened my terrified heart, might Yulia and I have shared a thrilling affair? Maybe. More likely, I tell myself now, Krasnaya Polyana was my crocodile-infested river. Yulia just happened to be standing at the end of a swaying suspension bridge.
Steve Friedman, the author of “Driving Lessons” and “Lost on Treasure Island,” has twice been a National Magazine Award finalist.
How to Win Over the In-Laws: Don’t Freeze to Death
By SHAUNA SELIY
I really wanted my new girlfriend’s parents to like me — but were they maybe trying to kill me? I had to wonder. It was only the second time I had met them, and they had brought me to a remote wilderness area in Colorado, where we were now stranded, on a cold and snowy afternoon at 10,000 feet above sea level.
A few hours earlier, we had climbed into a Sno-Cat, a metal box on tank treads — me, my new girlfriend, her parents, her sister and brother-in-law. Also a husky and two Newfoundlands. We were headed out on a mountain road that was technically closed for the winter to spend the night at their summer cabin.
Her parents made me nervous. I knew their approval would be essential. They were aggressively outdoorsy, and I was not.
We had been chugging along in the Sno-Cat for a good while when the driver mused that there was no real reason to stay on the road. We twisted down a hill, across a flat, and plunged into the woods.
Then, several miles in, the Sno-Cat coughed and went silent. The driver tried to revive it, but ultimately pronounced it dead. He said he would hike out and get help.
We were in a tough spot, my girlfriend’s father explained — too far from the cabin to reach it by foot, and far enough from town that it would be quite a hike to safety. But it might not be prudent to wait for the driver to return, as the temperature would soon plummet.
We were in a corridor of tall pines, snow drifting down. I pictured the cross-country skiers who would glide through the next morning and find a frozen lesbian.
Her dad said, in a measured way, that we should probably get started walking toward town. Everyone turned to me — the potential weak link — for a second, even the husky. She had two different colored eyes and saw straight through my brave facade. It was our secret, though. I could not fold. I smiled and started hiking.
We headed out in a close pack. Then my girlfriend’s mom’s ankle started to hurt. Snow was gathering in the webbing of the Newfies’ feet and freezing into balls of ice, slowing them down. The husky kept circling us, making sure no one got left behind, every loop getting wider.
A few hours later, we heard a welcome sound: the buzzing of a snowmobile. We flagged it down, and the snowmobiler whisked away my girlfriend’s mother.
Another snowmobile came, and we tried to stretch a 150-pound Newfoundland across its seat, her legs dangling over each side. She kept sliding off. It was clear my girlfriend’s father would have to walk the dogs all the way back to town.
There were enough snowmobiles coming for the rest of us, though. The driver who stopped for me was in a stiff black snowsuit, a black visor and helmet. No words were exchanged as we sped away.
That was 12 years ago. My girlfriend and I got married this past summer. In his toast, her dad talked about my willingness to scrap through that misadventure as an early indicator that we might be a match.
As he spoke, I remembered standing in the parking lot where the snowmobilers had dropped us, exhausted and waiting for him. The last bits of sun were draining from the sky. I felt like we were in a family together already. A family — a collection of beings working their way across a landscape that is sometimes forgiving and generous and other times unfathomable and callous. The husky makes her laps and you look out at the horizon, willing everyone in to safety.
Shauna Seliy teaches in the English department at Northwestern University.
An Almost-Romance, Courtesy of Airbnb
By ERIC BENNETT
The Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert is arguably the most elegant structure in that port town of about 12,000 people. It has the lines and structure of a traditional long house and the expansive glass of something modern. You can inhale a cedar scent from its massive beams while surveying a harbor where birds and sea mammals hunt. Those animals’ ancestors, centuries ago, inspired the designs on the blankets and bent cedar boxes that fill the space.
I visited the museum on my third day in town. For a month I had been traveling by train, riding west from Ottawa, stopping in cities and sleeping in Airbnbs. Prince Rupert, near Alaska, was my most remote destination. Soon I would head back to places with traffic and cocktail bars.
Airbnb offers two options: whole homes or shared spaces. The latter are cheaper and come with company. You eat where your hosts eat and shower where they shower. My hosts included a stay-at-home dad in Toronto and a photographer in Winnipeg who orchestrated hootenannies. Here, I was staying with a woman we’ll call Kelli.
Kelli lived in a split-level house on a messy dead-end street. She drove a pickup, sold tools to construction crews, hunted moose, enjoyed assault rifles and was raising two sons while earning an M.B.A. She had blond curls and stunningly winsome eyes. Her hospitality was emphatic. As a guest, in general, I try to tread lightly — to need nothing more than key and bed. But on this trip I needed one other thing: solitude. I was traveling to write, and Prince Rupert seemed ideal. But to Kelli I was a lonely guy with time on his hands.
Is there anything more awkward than being pitied for lacking exactly the thing you’re intent on avoiding? Kelli invited me to dinner. She led me and her boys on a hike in the mountains. She drove me around town. And when I mentioned the museum, she smiled and waited. “Would you like to come?” I asked.
I was not going to the museum for my own sake. My mother, though not a professor, possesses a doctoral command of cultural anthropology. She consumes monographs on the Mayans like normal people binge-watch “Girls.” In her eyes, my travels in Canada could be about one thing only: Kwakwaka’wakw artifacts.
Kelli met me at the museum wearing a plaid cap and matching vest — she was utterly put together. If she dressed like this for work, I couldn’t picture her at a construction site. I had an overwhelming sensation of being beamed at. It didn’t fade as we stood before the Tsimshian button blanket with dentalium shell or the shamanic grizzly-claw headdress.
Airbnb has real emotional overlap with first dates. Effusive amenability, total gameness, is the default. You strive to be liked. But was this an actual first date?
Kelli did not admire the artifacts. She admired my admiration of the artifacts. But I did not admire the artifacts either. I had come to pay homage to my mother’s admiration. Which was hard to do under the best of circumstances, and impossible while under Kelli’s consummate cheerful gaze.
Two virtual strangers were hungering together for things out of reach. Is mutual pity the inverse of a mutual crush? If so, the inverse in this case seemed to echo with love. Kelli and I didn’t make out later, even after an evening stroll by Cow Bay, where seals barked and huffed in the darkness. But the next morning I accepted a ride to the station and enjoyed a kiss on the cheek — and, two days later, poured my very soul into her online review from an apartment in Vancouver that I had all to myself.
Eric Bennett is the author of “Workshops of Empire” and “A Big Enough Lie.”
A Proposal at 6,436 Feet, With No Sushi in Sight
By R. ERIC THOMAS
I always imagined I would get engaged at a sushi bar. Not just any sushi bar, but a classy sushi bar. I have standards. Can you imagine the thrill of sitting at a sushi conveyor belt, watching the little plates of maki roll by and suddenly spying a ring, balancing on bonito?
Perhaps it stems from my love of food that arrives with no effort whatsoever, but when I tried to envision something as improbable as a proposal, the conveyor belt always came to mind. So, it was with no small amount of surprise that I found myself getting engaged 6,436 feet above sea level, outside, with no sashimi in sight.
It was the idea of the man who now is my husband. David is an Eagle Scout from the West Coast. He self-identifies as white, outdoorsy and Presbyterian. I self-identify as Vanessa Huxtable. He spent his childhood camping and snow-caving. The closest I got to communing with nature as a child was reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” multiple times.
But David thought it would be momentous to hike up Black Butte, a stratovolcano in his home state, Oregon, and exchange engagement rings. “But who will light a sparkler and cheer for us?” I asked. “The bobcats?” We had decided that we wanted to marry each other months earlier — I thought about it after the first night we met — but neither of us could point to a specific time when we had made a move. Hence the trip.
Walking up a mountain never seems like a great idea unless you are Moses. And, yes, I know that it is not a mountain, but I had never heard the term stratovolcano until I searched “What is Black Butte?” so most of my jokes about this involve mountains.
In the weeks leading up to our cross-country trip, I started building a fortress of jokes: physical exertion jokes, jokes about the things white people do for fun. All of this was done in an attempt to protect myself from the fear that this proposal, so far from anything I imagined, would feel like nothing.
David had hiked Black Butte many times before; he used each trip to mark movement in his life. He wanted to share this special place with me as we moved forward. I worried that, like Diana from “A Chorus Line” on the hill, I would not feel the motion.
What is a moment supposed to feel like? And how do you know if you are feeling the right thing?
I was deeply afraid that the magic of opposites attracting and of moving outside of one’s comfort zone and of recently legalized same-sex marriage and of the thin mountain air and of a pioneering spirit wouldn’t work on me.
But with fears intact, I set out on the two-hour hike in late July, wearing convertible pants we bought for the occasion, because I love him. At the summit, we made a cairn, a pile of rocks signifying an important place in a journey. David said that in mountaineering, cairns were used to mark the path when it was difficult to know where to go.
David, a pastor, had written promises for us to read as we put rings on each other’s fingers, the setting sun glinting off the metal. Magic. I looked at him, this pile of rocks and the stunning vista, and I felt everything. I felt joy, belonging and connection. I felt embarrassed because I was crying so hard that the other hikers thought he was breaking up with me. I felt exhausted, sweaty, chilly and hopeful. In a place I never imagined I would be, there was a new feeling: motion.
I cannot say if it was the right feeling, but I know it was the best feeling I have ever had.
R. Eric Thomas, a playwright based in Philadelphia, writes a daily humor column on Elle.com.
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