The natural inclination of people in conflict and those whose lives are set on opposing trajectories is to flee from the offending individual – to run home, to retire to another room, to slam the door or to move to a hut on the other side of the island. There are few fates worse than being trapped inside a car with such a person and death is not one of them.
Disastrous dates, burgeoning break-ups and failing friendships all provide the necessary ingredients for a mobile powder keg. Short of stopping the car, hurling the offending individual from the passenger seat and speeding off, what can be done? If the problem person is the driver, options are even more limited.
As a passenger, you can sit silently and stare at the vanishing point on the highway ahead. You can ignore the need for food and hydration. You can choose to wait for the driver to take a restroom break, then sneak off yourself and hurry back before you’re noticed. These are your pitiful choices.
Passengers can be grateful for modern technology and smartphones that provide a lifeline to the outside world. Watching online videos and laughing uproariously at texts that may or may not have actually been sent or received provide excellent camouflage and distraction.
I once knew a person whose friendship burst at the seams part-way through a road trip from Canada to Cleveland, Miss., the home of blues music. He considered himself fortunate to escape from the vehicle in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of chili seasoned with chocolate and cloves. He took the bus back home and was glad of it.
As a driver, my own substandard response to such tempestuous situations is to hone my joylessness until it fills the car with a thick, passive aggressive fog. Strict adherence to traffic laws is suddenly of the essence. I steer sharply and brake with vicious precision. I no longer have needs or desires. Yes, I will do exactly as the passenger requests – no more, no less – until he or she is delivered home by me one final time.
Entire swaths of Canadian highway and some city streets have been permanently transformed for me by such experiences. There may have been double rainbows arching across the horizon and proud, stately maples planted along those routes. All I remember are derelict pioneer cemeteries, a plastic mailbox in the shape of an ear of corn and the skeleton of a porcupine. I avoid these routes like the plague. If I’m accidentally detoured on to one of them, I’m instantly transported as far back in time as necessary to tear open an old wound.
I sometimes see couples arguing in a passing car. The fact that they’re arguing indicates they still have hope. They’re engaged, at least, in some sort of mutual exchange. It’s the doomed couples I feel sorry for, the driver with gnarled fists clenched around the steering wheel, the passenger staring fixedly at the sidescape.
Why do such terrible things tend to occur on long drives in unfamiliar territory?
Don’t blame your car for that.
In most cases, the relationship was already doomed. The car merely behaves as a test tube, confining diverse elements that are no longer compatible in close proximity through a range of unusual environments. Be grateful. The car trip only accelerated a process that would have distributed the same agony quotient – or more – over a longer period of time.
I often think of en excruciating sequence in the 1972 film The Heartbreak Kid, in which a man realizes within hours of his wedding that he’s made a terrible mistake.
Driving to a honeymoon destination in Miami Beach, actor Charles Grodin perfectly captures the groom’s growing disenchantment as the kilometres peel away. The trip begins with the newlyweds belting out an enthusiastic rendition of The Carpenters’ Close to You, then descends to ever more lacklustre variations of Someone’s in the Kitchen With Dinah as Grodin’s Lenny becomes increasingly disenchanted with his new bride. Her laugh, her voice, her touch, her proximity have all become offensive to him. The tension is palpable. Pulling up to the hotel, we know their marriage has already ended.
A few minutes after telling his distraught bride of a week that their marriage is finished, Lenny disingenuously exclaims: “I feel we’re over the worst of it now.”
To avoid the trip back home with his ex, he offers her his bankroll, the wedding gifts, the luggage and, of course, the car. That certainly seems fair to me.
Photograph by: Image Source IS2 , Fotolia.com