My partner, Peter, and I are both frighteningly avid travelers. One year alone from our home in Munich, we flew to Costa Rica, Dubai, Paris, New Zealand and Rio (twice). There are so many advantages to flying: the free alcohol, the convenience of lavatories to relieve yourself of that alcohol, and then of course there's the alcohol. But the greatest advantage is that the pilot almost always knows the way. Yes, there is the in-seat monitor with the little aeroplane flying over an artist's rendering of the earth, but it's not as if the pilot's going to ask you whether he should turn right over Brussels. He wouldn't get an answer even if he did, because you're three sheets to the wind.
This wonderful life in the air was sailing along until three years ago when Peter's company gave him a car with unlimited petrol. Our life was about to change, and not for the better. In a matter of just a few weeks I learned a startlingly new meaning of "Fill'er up!" We had become Earthbound sojourners-slash-grumpy-teetotalers.
And so it was that we took to the road when we took our holidays. Our first trip was to Italy. In the driver's seat and sober for the first time in his life, Peter presented me with a work of origami, as enigmatic as it was enormous -- really, I've seen boats with smaller sails -- and as veined and mottled as my great grandmother's legs. A truly astounding work of foldable art.
"Where's Kitzbühel," Peter's voice chirped from from somewhere behind the sail.
"How the hell should I know?"
"You've got your nose in the map."
"This is a map?" I stared in amazement at the map in front of me. "Oh, yes, look! There are little streets. How cute. Where's the little aeroplane so we'll know where we are?"
"Just find Kitzbühel. Hurry. There's a fork coming up," Peter said with a little chuckle. He's told me more than once that my sense of humor is adorable.
"But where are we now?" I asked.
"We're on the A10 going south."
"Um . . . which way is south?" I was panicking but trying to remain adorable. See "south" has always meant "down" to me, but, oddly enough, we were going up a hill.
"There went the fork."
"What town did you say again?"
"I don't see that town. Are you sure . . . hey . . .hey . . . why are you pulling over?"
"Give me the map," he grumbled, grabbing it with such gusto that Southern Italy, finally achieving independence, flew off and landed in the floorboard.
"This is a map of Italy!"
"Aren't we going to Italy?" I asked.
"But we're still in Austria!"
(It really wasn't my fault. He'd handed me the map.)
I did try my best to see his logic (I even squinted a few times), but I must confess that everything my dear Peter screamed at me on the side of the road that day was (and still is) absolutely true: I cannot read a map, or anything else for that matter, while driving; I am "the dimmest halfwit that ever lived"; and I am useless in every respect. I would, however, venture to add one little thing he forgot to mention: I am adorable.
Which, by the way, is not why we're still together. You see, Suzie saved us. She was cheaper than couples counseling, more understanding than a priest, more exact than a Swiss accountant, and more reliable than an infatuated girlfriend. Suzie was a godsend.
Shortly after we returned from Italy, Peter had a navigation system installed in the car. We named her Suzie, and we were in love.
It was fun at first. We were truly smitten with Suzie. Soon we couldn't go anywhere without her dulcet BBC voice telling us to "prepare to arrive at a roundabout" and "prepare to turn left".
The car had officially become a map-free zone. Absolute heaven. Or not. It wasn't long before Peter started entering destinations like the grocery store around the corner or the centre of our village into the navigation system just to hear Suzie's soothing voice. He would smile to himself like a loving husband smiles at his loving wife when she says, "Peter, honey, it's the next right." It was repulsive.
In just a few months, Suzie had taken my healthy partner and turned him into a henpecked softy. There was nothing for it; we had a wife. And she was one of those wives who would admonish in a pleasant, persistent monotone. A Stepford GPS.
"Prepare to turn left in four hundred metres," she instructed us one autumn day on our way to the post office (three blocks from our house).
"Oh come on," I said. "Four hundred metres? That's like four kilometres or something. How can you prepare to turn so far before the turn?"
"Prepare to turn left in three hundred and fifty metres."
"Aw, Suzie," Peter said with a sigh. "Doesn't she have the sweetest voice?"
"I don't know about you, but I'm prepared," I said and folded my arms.
"Prepare to turn left in three hundred metres."
"Oh, bloody hell. Shut it!" I screeched and turned the damn thing off.
"Someone's not being adorable," Peter said, turning his Suzie back on.
"Prepare to turn left in two hundred metres."
How I longed for the days when instructions were more like "Turn! Turn! Oh Christ! You turdhead! You missed it!" I flipped Suzie back off. This went on (and off) for just long enough so that we actually did miss the turn.
"Make a U-turn if possible," Suzie soughed, and Peter dutifully obeyed.
What could I do? I sulked -- How could I compete with a woman so cartographically talented? So even-tempered? So flexible? So British? But then I lifted my head in proud resignation. There was indeed nothing I could do, I thought as the post office emerged before us. I would have to accept the sobering fact that there were now three in this relationship --
"You have reached your destination."
-- at least for the time being.
Christopher Allen, a native Tennessean, lives in Germany and writes creative non-fiction, humor and Southern literature. His work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People and Gathering: Writers of Williamson County, as well as in the ezines Metazen, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, Flash Fire 500 and The Short Humour Site. Allen writes about his travels at I Must Be Off. When he's not writing fiction and creative non-fiction, he's teaching English and working on a Business English coursebook for advanced EFL learners. And he's a lot less boring than he sounds.
Article © Christopher Allen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-15