When Road Trips Suck

Can a relationship survive a 10-hour car ride, the license plate game, and a bunch of drunken teenagers in the Palmetto State?

I had never been on a vacation with my girlfriend Julianne before our journey to Myrtle Beach, SC, last summer. We had been on “trips” before, but never a week-long vacation. This was a big deal. Vacations are the traditional relationship test. Could we get along with each other for an entire week? Would both of us survive? Would she kill me, cut me up into pieces, and sell my meat to Arby’s?

We had tried to plan a trip to Miami or the Bahamas, but due to financial limitations we could not vacation in either tropical location. Also, I had never been on a plane before, and I did not want my first plane ride to be eight hours long. So, the plan was to drive down to Myrtle Beach for three days, and then drive over to Atlanta to visit my sister for a couple days. We would then drive 12 hours back home.

Now, reader, you might think to yourself: “Road trips are always so fun!” But you don’t know my girlfriend and me. There are two important things you must understand about my girlfriend: One, she cannot sit still for more than 20 minutes, and two, she has automotive narcolepsy. Also, there are two things you must know about me: Trips make me stressed, and stress makes me cranky. As you can see, this boded well for our 10-hour car ride into the South.

We set out from Laurel, MD, on a warm June day. Julianne had bought a book of Sudoku puzzles and some coloring books to keep herself occupied on the long trip. About an hour into the drive, she decided we should play the license plate game. She attentively wrote down the state names of each plate she saw while I drove. She shouted out each state that she saw like a little kid announcing every candy she got for Halloween. Our conversations would be interrupted by “NEBRASKA!” followed by scribbling and a tally of states. After another half an hour, she grew weary of the game and the narcolepsy took over.

There is a certain serenity in driving the open highway. The silence broken only by the sound of the engine running, the tires on the road, and the air rushing by. There is peace in these moments. I thought of nothing. I relaxed. All the stress left me.

Until the sleeping body next to me shouted “ARKANSAS!” and nearly sent me off the road. Somehow Julianne’s license plate senses kicked in while she slept and, not wanting to miss an opportunity, she jotted down the name on her list and fell back to sleep.

After another eight hours of this, we finally arrived in Myrtle Beach. We passed by amusement park rides, arcades, family parks, and nice hotels. We would not be staying there. We’d be staying in the Quality Inn and Suites in the ghetto of Myrtle Beach — during the local high school “senior week.” After lugging our luggage up a flight of stairs, we discovered that our hotel room apparently was built to house oopma-loompas. The room looked like a converted supply room, but we weren’t fazed by this. After placing our valuables (a box of raisins and my wallet) into the safe, we hit the beach to enjoy what was left of the sunlight.

After an hour next to the waves, Julianne — feeling energized from her hours of rest and her discovery of an Illinois license plate on the way to the beach — asked me what I wanted to do that night. Being tired and stressed after driving all day, I suggested a lazy night in our room.

What followed was an hour-long fight to end all fights. Pasts were exhumed. Tears were shed. As we screamed back and forth, bystanders could hear a John Williams score.

After several rounds of verbal fisticuffs, we retreated to our respective corners to lick our emotional wounds. There was silence for several moments as my stress faded and our anger cooled, and we realized that we were, of course, fighting over nothing. There were apologies and hugs, and that night we fell asleep together listening to the dulcet tones of the high schoolers above us hooting at women outside.

The next few post-fight days were wonderful. We went to the beach, mini-golfed, shopped, and ate at a nice hibachi restaurant. And as we left for Atlanta, I felt refreshed and happy. We had made a long trip together, and, with only one fight, survived it without wanting to kill each other. What fun would Atlanta hold? The Coke Museum? The Aquarium? Ted Turner’s Tomb? I could only wonder.

As we drove west, I smiled. It would be a five hour trip to Atlanta, and I was happy to make the trip. “Road trips can be fun,” I reminded myself.

“ALASKA!” Julianne shouted.

Article © 2007 by Mike Meagher