It was my grandmother that gave me the sagest advice about relationships. She told me that if you want to know if your relationship is worth pursuing, you need to give it the “distance test”. The Distance test was a test whereby you must travel with that wonderful companion for a period of time longer then a trip to the grocery store and back and survive as a relationship intact.
So it was with this little “test” in mind that I decided to travel with my sweet Gertrude Penelope Swanson to San Diego for a weekend holiday getaway. I had only recently met the acquaintance of Gertrude 4 months before, nestled between a formidable companion named Tom, (who liked hearing his name so much, you had to say it twice) and another named Sam sung. Gertrude wasn’t the flashiest model on the market, but she seemed to have all the characteristics I was looking for in a companion: She knew where she was going in life, kept focus on her goals, was well traveled, and responded well to touch.
I had already made all the preparations for our little weekend getaway. I packed the trail mix, refreshments and essential overnight wear, as she was already waiting patiently in the car for me without a sign of being in a rush or blaring the horn.
I took the wheel, let her know where we were headed, and just like an amazing companion and co-pilot; she gently guided me in the direction we needed to go.
“In 300 meters, turn right” Meters, how cute. I wondered why I never bothered to learn that form of measurement before, and felt out of cultural respect I should note that to myself. Gertrude was British after all.
“In 4 kilometers turn left and merge onto the motorway” Motorway. Goddess I love her accent. I’m such a stereotypical sucker for accents.
We didn’t need to have constant conversation and I also appreciated that about her. While I do love conversing, sometimes rushing a conversation at the onset of a long trip, could lead to running out of whimsical things to say, thereby dooming the remainder of the trip to the horribly long silence where all sorts of awkwardness can force its way in, like goldfish crackers spawning upstream into the seat interior. I didn’t want to be the one blamed for that, so I kept a comfortable level of silence in between breaks.
South of Santa Barbara, the clouds sulked like pouty teenagers along the coastline. I didn’t want to mention this to Gertrude because it might offend her culture for enjoying lots of grey and gloom in England, so I spoke instead about how lovely and wonderful the weather was. She seemed non-plussed about the weather, and I took this as a good sign we were quite compatible after all! I could feel my Grandmother beaming down upon me with pride. Well, I don’t know if proud is the right word, since we didn’t have many lesbian conversations when she was alive, and yet she was quite a wonderful liberal. Yep, she would have been proud!
Armed with the foresight and long term planning of a fruit fly, I had chosen the opportune time of 1:00 pm on the Central Coast to begin our journey. My reasoning was that we would beat the crowds of commuters heading out of town. What I didn’t seem to grasp in my calculations of distance, velocity and time travel, was that it would put us smack dab into 4 o’clock LA traffic, on a Friday, before Pride Fest, and Summer Break for all the children of the public school system in California. Genius! Gertrude seemed absolutely calm and didn’t bring it up once to scold me or to give me “the look” that I probably should have gotten.
It was in L.A. however, that our blessed union started to sour slightly. I was relatively used to going it alone to San Diego, enough to where I had forgone any map in the glove box and used an internal “honing device” known only to Monarch Butterflies and a few other species to sense where South was: oh and the signs that said “Southbound” helped a bit.
We were still clipping along as I noticed the first slowdown and reminded my sweet “we might be in for a little delay”, which was soon followed by a slam on the brakes, bringing our little dalliance to a grinding halt. Gertrude must have sensed my disarmed sense of direction and calmly said “In 8 kilometers, veer right onto I-5”
With an outward air of calm and dignity, but inward panic, I calculated in my head that I had never been to I-5 on this stretch before, it was unfamiliar, and that 405 south was definitely the choice I had made before. I think she was questioning my judgment!
I tried to remain cool and calm as we weren’t going to make 8 kilometers or yards or whatever within the next 40 minutes anyway, so why make a fuss.
“Well darling, I have been to San Diego before you see………..well, yes I have been places before meeting you, but it was only to visit a very old friend” It was getting awkward.
Gertrude seemed to be more quiet than usual, and I tried to sound upbeat to fill in the silence. This was a great moment to tell a great long sordid story from my childhood right? I was grasping for an ice-breaker.
Nothing! She seemed not even wanting to respond. Finally, we moved around the bend and after wistfully waving goodbye to 405 southbound, I proceeded towards her choice of I-5. I mean, when you are in love, you compromise right? We actually made the I-5 southbound onramp at the breakneck pace of a kidney stone passing. While it did seem to start with a burst of hustle and break through, we quickly found we were going to be going no faster than 14 MPH for another 40 miles. (not sure what the conversion chart is on that one)
Gertrude seemed a little perturbed by my sense of driving and for some odd reason was convinced I might be having an internal tantrum and needed a time out. “At the next exit, turn left”
“Darling, there is no left. I’m fine” I assured her, while my hands were drenched with sweat, and anger and coffee perspired through my pores.
“In 3 kilometers, turn left” She definitely took a tone with me on that one.
“Really, I’m fine. I have it under control. Now I know I was a little testy back there, and you noticed that, but I’m really okay. I just get a bit frazzled in hours and hours of mindless traffic, but hey we can work through this right?”
“Listen to me. I’m telling you I’m fine! I am really looking forward to this weekend. We are going to have a great time. See, I let you win on the I-5 part, and look, we probably chiseled off at least 20 more minutes of “moron staring” right off of our itinerary which is great!”
“In 2 kilometers, turn Left”
“LOOK GERTRUDE. I don’t even know what a kilometer is!! There, I said it! I’m a moronic American who doesn’t know the metric system, Futbol, or driving on the left side of the road! I don’t understand the fuss about Mister Bean, but I do love Monty Python and fish and Chips!! Can we just put our cultural differences aside and get along! I think I have really fallen for you, and I am falling apart at the seams here!”
“You clearly don’t see things the way I do Gertrude. There is no left here. Not in 1 kilometer, not in 8 kilometers, not in a million kilometers! It’s not going to happen! If you could see things my way, you would realize we just went through 8 American MILES of cone zone and all the other exits were blocked off! But you weren’t listening to me!!”
As I begrudgingly found the next exit, we proceeded in sullen silence. I stopped at a gas station to fill up, and offered her a beverage, but she fell silent as soon as I turned off the car. Getting out and stretching my legs really helped me to get a breather, get some head space, and think about my choices. Did I really need this relationship? Did I need a companion right now? Was she really the “one”? I went inside to pay and picked up another caffeinated drink to keep me focused on the 100 miles left ahead. As I headed back, I thought of my Grandma’s “distance test” and I was failing miserably.
“Look Gertrude. I know we have our differences, and you see things much more methodically then I do. I think you really offer me a sense of direction and purpose. I don’t want to lose that. Do you think we could try it again?”
“At the next right, please proceed onto the motorway” Motorway! She’s such a tease!