A Travel Guide for the Perfect Stranger

Don't Leave Home With Just Anybody

I just heard some really disturbing news.  Someone told me that you're about to take a vacation.  They said you've carefully selected your destination, arranged to take a few days off from work, asked a neighbor to feed the dog and check the mail, and gassed up the car.  That's not what's bothering me.

I heard that you were planning to travel with that nice new couple, Hank and Maureen, who just moved in down the street a few months ago.  It's just my opinion of course, but I think you're making a huge mistake!  After all, how well do you really know these people?

Take it from me, just because your husband and Hank both play golf and order their steaks well-done, and you and Maureen use the same brand of hair coloring and both like to tape episodes of "Dancing with the Stars" doesn't mean you're compatible enough to spend ten days in a car together.  I'm telling you, this is a big deal, and I honestly don't think you've given it nearly enough thought.

For one thing, Hank could be one of those competitor-types, for whom every vacation is a race.  As far as he's concerned, the one who gets there first wins.  Do you have any idea what it's like to depart at 3 a.m. every morning, and not stop for coffee until noon?  Are you willing to let Mount Rushmore blur past your window, simply because Hank is "making good time"? 

And what if Maureen has one of those rare compulsive disorders that won't let her pass an antique mall or a souvenir shop without stopping?  What if she has a fruit stand fetish?  Imagine driving all the way from Tulsa to Reno with a paper bag of overripe peaches between your knees, and fruit flies swarming in your hair.

And another thing, have you bothered to examine their spending habits?  For all you know, Hank might be a real miser on vacation.  I've heard of extreme cases where these types will drive the entire expanse of the Mojave Desert in July with no air conditioning on in the car, just to save on gas.  If Hank’s a true tightwad, you can forget about that nice restaurant for dinner, too.  Not to worry, though.  Maureen's probably got enough Spam sandwiches for the four of you to eat on from here to eternity.  (Or maybe it will just seem that long.)

And here's one to consider.  They may both be a couple of fact-junkies who, by the time of your departure, will have spent weeks on the Internet researching hundreds of titillating little details about your destination.  Picture the minutes flying by like hours as your non-stop tour guides drone on and on that Oklahoma has a well pumping oil from under the state capitol building, and that the sialia currucoilis is the state bird of Idaho.  Hank will explain why the Lone Star state flag is the only one that can be hung at the same height as Old Glory, and then he and Maureen will argue for fifty miles over which is saltier, the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea.  As if you cared.

Of course, travel facts aren't the only things you'll learn from them.  In addition to learning that Hank has an appetite the size of the Grand Canyon, and Maureen has a bladder the size of a pecan, you'll soon learn that Maureen can spend hours detailing her recent hysterectomy.  And Hank?  Well he's got an opinion about everything.  About the budget deficit.  About diet pills.  About Dr. Phil’s marriage.  About the BCS playoff structure.  And the best part is he can't wait to share his opinions with you.  Again, as if you cared.

When they travel, Maureen stops to read every single Historical Marker, while Hank announces that if everybody will agree to skip the tours of  "all them old gov’ment buildings" (like the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian) he can get a better tee-off time at the municipal course.  And speaking of teed-off, that's exactly what you'll be when Hank accidentally sits on your prescription sunglasses, and Maureen loses the expensive theater tickets you bought for "Nine to Five" in New York. 

Just think, ten whole days trapped in a car listening to Hank wheezing through his nose, and Maureen reading recipes for corn pudding out loud from her magazine.  Ten days of Hank ending every sentence with, "You know what I'm sayin'?", and Maureen snapping your picture every time you emerge from a public toilet. 

I believe it was Robert Louis Stevenson who once said, "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive".  Easy for him to say.  He never had to travel with Hank and Maureen.


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