We talked about our families—he has five siblings and I have four—we talked about my career angst, his failed marriage, our approaches to writing, what we find funny, politics, religion, sex. And when we paused our talking, it was only to swap musical recommendations. I played him my favorite Josh Ritter tracks. He introduced me to The Bird and The Bee. We went back and forth on whether our road trip theme song should be The Muppets' "Movin' Right Along" or The New Pornographers' "Go Places." The 10 Best Love Songs Of 2011
We agreed that there was something about the monotony of the road and having to focus your attention on the yellow line in front of you instead of the eyes of the person beside you that lends itself to confession. The words just kept tumbling out and I found myself repeatedly surprised at what I was willing to admit to someone I'd only met a couple of days ago. I was also surprised that it really had only been a couple of days and not years that we'd known each other.
"Do you realize that the only thing we haven't talked about is the most obvious one?" he asked me. We were gassing up the car outside of St. Louis.
"Yes. I just figured we'd leave it until the last minute and then have some horribly awkward talk right before I'm supposed to board a plan home."
"I don't want to have that talk."
"Neither do I."
That more or less sums up our approach to the white elephant in the room... er, car... that made itself apparent over the course of the week—what exactly was going on with us? It's impossible to spend so much time with someone in such a small space (Toyota Corollas aren't exactly roomy) and not develop some degree of emotional Stockholm Syndrome. While absence makes the heart grow fonder, proximity also weaves its own spell. But instead of trying to nail down, define or dismiss our unique dynamic, we decided that, for the moment, having someone to mock the naming skills of the hoards of yuppie parents (seriously, you called your kids Lennon and McCartney?) while shuffling through the Nashville Zoo was more important than dissecting our compatibility and what it meant. There would be plenty of time for that type of navel-gazing at some future point. Everything else could wait until we weren't driving upwards of nine hours a day and running on emotional fumes.
It proved to be a good choice, although one not entirely comfortable for two writers prone to overthinking. Carpe diem, we kept reminding each other when we felt the urge to be introspective or angsty. Carpe diem, I thought as I met his extended family and fielded his dad's questions about my latest blog post and helped his sister-in-law core apples for Thanksgiving dessert. Carpe diem, I whispered as I mingled with the entire Pittsburgh Twitterverse for Saturday night margaritas and nachos and hoped to make a good impression. Don't overthink. Don't think at all. Just enjoy yourself. And I did, right up to the moment that he dropped me off at the Pittsburgh airport on Sunday afternoon. We had talked so much over the previous week and built such a natural and comfortable rapport that there really wasn't much left that needed to be said at that point.
"Keep me updated," he directed.
"About the rest of my life?" I asked.
"About your trip home, silly."
When I told my travel partner I was writing this story, he had only one request. "I don't care what you tell people, but please don't make me look like any more of an ass than I am." I told him I would do my best to oblige.
We've kept in daily contact since the trip and we've kept to our agreement—no awkward conversations. Yet. We must have done something right, because a scant month after driving across the country, we're already planning the sequel to our adventure—spending New Year's Eve together in New York City. We're at a stalemate when it comes to whether or not to brave Times Square (I say yes, he says no), but I'm confident that we'll figure the issue out when and only when the time comes. After all, that's been our approach so far. Why mess with a good thing?