Thursday, June 03, 2010

Somebody To Love (From the Cheesecake Truck to the End of the Line, 13)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 13; click here for the Table of Contents.

New York is big. I've said many times that you have no idea how big this country is unless you drive across it, and that goes doubly for states that barely exist in your mind, like New York.

New York state must have an inferiority complex, the way Illinois must have an inferiority complex, both of them being states that exist, in people's minds, mostly as a city. Illinois wouldn't be a state if it wasn't for Chicago, and Chicago is the only thing most people know about Illinois. New York is even worse -- New York is known for New York, the city -- which isn't, as I always believed, called "New York City," but is simply New York, with people appending on the city to clarify that they're talking about the city and not the state. But they needn't bother: when I say (or type) New York, is there anyone in the world who doesn't automatically add on the "city" and picture Manhattan -- Manhattan being what everyone in the world thinks of when they think of New York?

We all do it, and because of that, I had no real idea, on our honeymoon, what "driving across the State of New York" would be like. Since I hadn't really figured we were going to the state of New York, I also hadn't given it any thought: when booking us into hotel rooms in Niagara Falls, I hadn't realized that Niagara Falls was in New York (the State) . I hadn't, in fact, realized that Niagara Falls was "in" anywhere -- Niagara Falls had always existed, in my mind, as a sort of place that was somewhere without ever being any-particular-where. It just was; it wasn't in a state or anything.

There were -- are-- places like that still in my mind, places that exist without being a part of another place. Some of them are geographic features, like Niagara Falls, or the Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon has no real location in my mind -- it's in Arizona (I'm pretty sure) but not in my mind; in my mind, the Grand Canyon is its own place, not in anywhere. Some cities fall into that category, most notably Las Vegas, which I know, intellectually, is a part of Nevada, but which in my mind also exists in its own limbo, as though it were its own state, or it's own country a la the Vatican.

New York (the state) and New York (the city) posed a similar but not exactly the same problem: I knew, going into the honeymoon, that we were going to New York (the State), and that we'd have to drive across New York (the State) to get to New York (the one everyone thinks of when I say New York.) But I'd not given any thought to what that drive would be like, because I literally had no mental image of what New York (the State) would be like. Anytime I tried to picture it -- including up to right now -- I pictured only Manhattan.

We set out from Buffalo with one goal on Day 3 of our honeymoon: Get to New York City. I imagined we'd be there pretty soon: all we had to do was drive across one little state:

Which didn't seem that hard, especially because in those pre-Mapquest days, I didn't know exactly how many miles it would be -- I could never figure out those little keys that say "This much: _____ equals 50 miles," mostly because I'd try to measure them using my fingers, or a knuckle, or something.

So we headed out and I figured by, say, 5 p.m., we'd be in New York. We drove along, past mile after mile of countryside that looks more or less like all countryside looks: houses, some trees here and there, a few gas stations, nothing spectacular or scenic, and we talked about nothing much in particular.

As a break from listening to my honeymoon tape, we listened to the album Sweetie had bought the night before at the Buffalo Mall -- she'd shopped for some stuff and I'd looked in vain for Doug Flutie, or at least Doug Flutie's Flutie Flakes (I've always wanted a box of Flutie Flakes and I'm pretty sure they don't make them anymore, but I would have, at one point, have paid almost anything for a box of Flutie Flakes. If you know of someone who has them, let me know so I can start bidding on them.)

The album Sweetie had bought was the soundtrack to the movie Armageddon, a movie that Sweetie had loved and which I'd kind of liked; I didn't like any of the soundtrack except for the song "Leaving On A Jet Plane" by Chantal Kreviazuk, a version which is beautiful and sad and which we listened to over and over again on that trip; to this day, that version of Leaving on A Jet Plane makes me think of my honeymoon and my wedding, so it's become almost an unofficial, de facto wedding song for us.

The only highlight of the entire morning that sticks out in my mind, otherwise, was when Sweetie pointed out that I was speeding; I was doing 57 or 62 or something, just over the speed limit -- my usual method of driving because I don't like to go the speed limit but I don't like to get tickets, so I've always followed the rule that cops won't pull you over if you're doing less than 7 miles an hour over the speed limit.

I don't know where I first heard that rule, but I've always believed it, even though I once got pulled over for speeding when I was going only 5 miles per hour over the limit. That time was about 3 or 4 years later, after our honeymoon, and Sweetie and I were in the car again, this time heading down highway 33 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We were going down a slight incline and the car's speed hit 30 in a 25 mph zone, which didn't cause me any worries at all because, of course, I was still below the 7-mile-per-hour limit.

Then a cop siren went on and a cop pulled me over and asked me if I knew why I'd been stopped. I told him that I honestly had no idea. He said I was speeding and I said "I was only going thirty, and it was downhill..." thereby admitting to the "crime" without thinking about it. The cop took my license, went back and sat in his car for about 20 minutes while Sweetie and I talked about how stupid this was, then came back up and said he'd let me off with a warning this time and I could go on my way.

So in a way, that proves the 7-Mile-Rule, because while I got pulled over, I didn't get a ticket.

That day, on our honeymoon, as I hit 62 or whatever speed I was going, Sweetie said "You're speeding," and I explained the rule to her about how 7-miles-per-hour over the limit was not speeding, and kept on going along at my just-over-the-limit rate of speed.

That conversation sticks out in my mind because of what happened later that day; I finally gave Sweetie a chance to drive -- that marking one of the very few times in our relationship that Sweetie has driven while I've been a passenger. I don't like to give up the wheel, primarily because if I'm not driving then I get seriously bored in a car and need something, anything, to do -- except that the anything can't be talking. If I'm sitting in a passenger seat, just talking, my mind begins to overheat and goes nuts.

Here's how it works, and how it worked that day: We switched drivers, after a couple of hours -- probably after lunch, giving Sweetie a chance to drive and me a chance to go slowly insane in the passenger seat. For the first few minutes, I was okay. I watched the road and talked and tapped my fingers on the side of the door.

Then I began to adjust the volume on the tape deck. Then I opened the glove compartment and looked in there. Then I locked and unlocked the door, and adjusted the vent system so that it was blowing up, then down, then left, then right. I tried to shut it down entirely. I tried to turn it so that the air blowing out would deflect off the window and back into me. I turned up the cold, then the hot. I opened the window and closed it. I reached into the back for a soda and a snack, and then began opening up the little armrest between us and playing with the things that are supposed to hold change (but which didn't have any change in them.)

That was all in the first 20 minutes. During that time, Sweetie continued to drive and talk to me without realizing that I was about to start doing jumping jacks or something equally insane. I tried as hard as I could to control it, and did so successfully for about 2 hours before I made us switch back.

Don't misunderstand: I'm perfectly capable of sitting still, almost anywhere. I can go to Church, or movies, or sit in my office, or at home, motionless, sometimes for hours (I could do it for days, but I keep having to get up and eat or go to work.) I can do that anywhere except a car. If I'm in a car, it's as though the walls around me, restricting me from activity, make it almost unbearable to not do something, and I have to try.

I have a theory about this, one that relates to other things in my life, like exercise. Sometimes, when I exercise, knowing that I can quit is all I need to keep going on. If I'm running on a track, doing laps, it becomes easier, sometimes, to keep going; at those times, my mind starts wanting to quit, and I tell myself Just one more lap and keep doing that until I work past the quit and am just running again. The fact that I could stop lets me keep going just a little further, where if I was running outside and had to walk all the way home if I stop running, I'd never get started -- the inability to stop anytime without a penalty makes me not start.

That doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes, the ability to stop works against me and I quit because it's too easy, but mostly the ability to stop anytime lets me go further or do more. That's how I worked my way up, back then, to running more than 17 miles. Without any kind of training schedule (and as a 2-pack-a-day-smoker) I went from running a half mile to a mile to 5 miles to 10 miles to 17 miles, all at once, by setting it up so that I could quit anytime without a penalty: I'd prearrange with someone to wait by a phone, and I'd run as far as I could, and then call my waiting person and have them come pick me up. On those runs, when I'd get tired, I'd keep going because I'd think just another 1/4 mile, or just another song and work through it.

Similarly, when I'm sitting motionless at home, or anywhere else, it's easy to keep doing that because I can stop at any time. Last week, I was laying on the couch reading The New Yorker on a Saturday afternoon, and then I decided to stop reading, and I just laid there, doing nothing. Nothing at all. I just laid and listened to the day, and thought random thoughts.

Periodically, during that time, I thought I should go do something, and I could have gone and done almost anything. I just didn't. I laid there and thought how I could do something, but I didn't have to, so I didn't. The ability to go do anything I wanted to let me do nothing at all -- because I could quit doing nothing at any time.

In a car, it's just the opposite. I can't stop doing nothing. I'm trapped in a car and can only do nothing, so I go slowly (or quickly) nuts because there's no escape -- I've got to do nothing and live with it.

Driving, I'm okay -- because I'm doing something and that distracts me a little. But passengering is a different story. If I'm going to be a passenger in a car, I've got to read, or do a crossword, or something, besides sit and talk.

On my honeymoon, though, I couldn't do that: It didn't seem right to say "Okay, you drive, I'm going to read for an hour or two" and then lapse into silence, so I tried, I really tried, to just sit and talk and not be completely deranged, and I think for the most part that it worked, or worked long enough that Sweetie got to drive and speed, something I noticed along the way.

"You're speeding," I told her, and she was -- she was going about 75, way over the speed limit.

"I know," Sweetie said -- and didn't apologize or slow down, even though that morning I'd been pretty sure she was telling me I was speeding because she felt I should not be speeding. But Sweetie has always applied her own rules to herself, even if it means ignoring the rules, and even if it means making me feel like a wuss after a Mexican vacation.

I'm talking about the Jet Ski Incident, in Mexico. Sweetie and I went to Puerta Vallarta on an us-only vacation, about a year before we got married, and as part of that vacation, we rented a jet ski to ride together. The guy who rented it to us showed us the area we could ride it in, and gave us instructions on speed. He pointed to the speedometer and said "Don't take it over 12, especially on turns." With that comprehensive safety lesson done, he turned us loose.

I was the first driver, and I did what he told me to. With Sweetie hanging on to me, I got us out onto the water, and zoomed -- "zoomed" this way and that, turning carefully and not taking it over 12. After about 10 minutes, it was Sweetie's turn to drive.

We slid past each other, with me pointing out to Sweetie the grips and throttle and saying "Remember what he said," and then I'd barely sat down and hadn't really grabbed onto her yet when Sweetie yelled:

"HANG ON BABY! WOO HOOO!" and gunned the engine, nearly throwing me off and ripping into this sharp curve at full speed. Water flung out, we raced across the bay and narrowly avoided hitting some rocks, with Sweetie going faster and faster and faster while I clung on for dear life and prayed she knew what she was doing.

"Isn't this fun?!" she'd shout now and then. I tried not to fall off and agreed that it was fun -- and then Sweetie started saying "Isn't it more fun than how you were driving?" and I wanted a chance, then, to prove that I was a man and could drive a jet ski fast, too, but by that time our rental was up.

Since then, Sweetie has from time to time reminded me that my ride on the Jet Ski was pokey and tame, and hers was exhilarating and wild, and my protests that I was only doing what the guy told me to do and she'd ignored the rules have fallen on deaf ears.

It didn't surprise me, then, that Sweetie would speed through New York (the State.) Or that she'd insist that she could speed, while I shouldn't.

What did surprise me was that 12 hours after we'd set out, we still hadn't seen New York (the City.)

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