Anatomy of a road trip

Most of us are taught, as very young children, the difference between "driver" and "navigator" when people are in the car, particularly our parents, and usually while headed on some trip to see the family for some holiday, which is normally plagued with traffic and bad weather. The "driver" is usually the man and he can do no wrong, and the "navigator" is usually the woman, and she can do all kinds of wrong, wrong punishable by the driver. He goes on and on explaining exactly how exasperating it is when she decides to tell him to take an exit mere seconds before the turn-off. This goes on until a fight occurs and then the children take sides and everyone is yelling and crying.

You know. Sometimes. Sometimes that's what happens, admit it.

One thing particularly unnerving to me about this scenario is how unshakable the setup (driver, carrying no blame and navigator, carrying all the blame) is. Let's say we were headed to, oh, my father's hometown of Pittston, PA, where he grew up. A place he's driven to, and from, hundreds of times. Let's say we missed an exit, or got into traffic, even. Mom's fault. This might also occur when we'd go into D.C. for dinner, sometimes. D.C. where we live. D.C. where my father would drive every day. Every. Single. Day.

Another important landmark of the road trip is when a scary situation occurs - say, we almost run into a truck - and the passenger yelps, shouts, or says "Oh no." When things have calmed down the driver shouts, "Don't DO THAT! You almost got me into an accident!" Interesting, because a) the driver, not the person in the passenger seat, almost got into the accident (it's just logic) and b) if the person you're riding with ever has no reaction whatsoever to a near loss of life, check em' out. Because they could be comatose or psychotic.

Not to paint a picture of my father as a tyrannical authority figure. Those of you who know him know that simply isn't the case. Furthermore, this doesn't just happen with them. It happens in my life too. J, before you scoot on down to the comment line to refute my claims, c'mon, think about it. It's happened.

Luckily my husband is a really laid-back guy, far more upset when I see a hawk or something swoop overhead and he misses it than he is when we make a wrong turn. J and I, actually, have our own little version of road-trip stress. See, these weekend trips we sometimes take are normally to visit with friends, and that means staying up late and all sorts of debauchery. When we drive home Sunday, usually in J's car, because it's bigger and not a stick-shift, we are beat.

Everyone gets tired in different ways. Some get silly. Some get cranky. Some complain. J simply can't stay awake. He just can't. Which is as endearing as it is impractical. He gets this way on car trips a lot. If he's in the passenger seat, forget it. He's out before you hit the highway, awaking every now and then, maybe after you've calmly changed lanes or the radio station, to sit buck upright and yell, "What happened?! Are you ok?!!" before drifting off again. Endearing. And sometimes less endearing.

When he's driving he gets tired, too. I found this out early in the relationship and was quick to coddle the boy should he seem even remotely sleepy. "Do you need me to drive? Do you want to stop and get some coffee? Pull over and let me drive. It's fine!" Now that we have been together for several years I find less need to baby him and more often wish he would just get to the point when he's acting out the whole "I'm-tired-and-don't-want-to-drive-anymore" scenario which goes something like this: J gets hot and hungry and/or thirsty all at the same time, struggling to get his fleece off and turn on the AC. This is, of course, difficult while at the wheel, and so he gets frustrated. Sometimes he slams his head back against the seat and mutters, "tired" over and over. He makes other noises, showing me he's annoyed and not feeling up to the job. Back in the day, like I said, I'd be quick to jump all over this, ensuring him I could drive and that he didn't need to worry about a thing. Now I like to play a game, a game called, "Why don't you tell me, in a full sentence, what you want from me?"

I mean, we are husband and wife, and before this we were a dedicated boyfriend/girlfriend team. I've never been much for people trying to get me to do or say certain things by passive/aggressive behaviors, so if he wants me to drive, why doesn't he just ask me?

Have I asked him this? Sure, and he's explained. His reasoning is actually very considerate - he doesn't want to ask me to drive because he knows I'll do it and he knows I'm tired, too. But, I explain back to him, we know I can handle my tired self on the open road far better than you. I mean, if one can stay awake, and one physically cannot, what's the best option? I thought so. Plus, my driving while you sleep means constant listening to E! Entertainment radio on XM, which would be strictly unheard of otherwise.

One more scene is normally played out in this oft-repeated show and that's the part that occurs while we're exiting the highway and J, in one last attempt save me from driving and getting to listen to celebrity gossip for hours, explains that if we just pull off the road for a while he could take a quick nap and then he'd be ok to drive again. Taking a little nap in your car when you could be speeding home to a real bed is absolutely not an option for me, so I always refuse this kind gesture.

It works out. He drives for me, too, when I'm feeling tired, which happens less regularly, of course, but it's still great to have backup. Plus, I've gotten to be a pro at ignoring those sudden but bleary-eyed check-ins delivered when I'm the one behind the wheel. It's a pretty good way to become a calm and collected person, when your passenger slams his palms on the dashboard and asks "What happened?? What happened!!!?" after you've simply turned up the radio to hear exactly what is going on with Tom and Katie.