Monday, March 1, 2010

Our "Amazing Race" Gone Awry

I've always wondered how my husband and I would fare on a race around the world. On the one hand, our wit, travel experience, athleticism, and social skills would put us in good stead. We know how to drive on the wrong side of the road and, between the two of us, can bumble our way through both French and Spanish-speaking countries. Alan's accent for foreign languages is superb; he can pretend to spout Italian or Russian or Chinese without knowing more than a few words and sound as if he's fluent. Well, at least for a few sentences.

On the other hand, it's clear that contestants on the real "Amazing Race" are under tremendous stress. They get lost, lose sleep, sometimes take much too much time to complete a required task. These contestants - young and old, straight and gay, married or dating - all explode at one time or another. Dating couples have decided there is no future for them beyond the show; relatives have expressed extreme frustration, even hatred, that surely dampens their relationships once the race is over.

Well, any questions I had about how well we'd do in such a race were answered yesterday. We'd kill one another. We were on our way to the Marin Headlands just across the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd programmed Ernestine, our dear GPS, but Alan was set on his own route. To confuse things even more, big road sides pointed to yet a third way to the bridge. As navigator I first insisted that we trust Ernestine. But after seeing the signs, I abandoned her and instructed my dear driver to follow the signs. . . smack dab into a traffic jam that showed no signs of letting up any time this year.

The tension began to build. "I knew I should have taken the Embarcadero," Alan said.

"But the signs," I murmured.

The car inched forward.

"We've already wasted a lot of time," he said. "We should just turn around and go home."

I sat quietly, hoping beyond hope that the traffic would break up. It did not.

And then there's a sign instructing all en route to the Golden Gate Bridge to stay in the middle lanes. But with a chance to veer right and make up some lost time, Alan spun out of a middle lane and raced a full block before the light turned red.

"You were supposed to stay in the middle lane," I offered meekly.

"Who says?"

"That sign we just passed."

Alan began a rhythmic pounding on the driver side window as we headed in the wrong direction.
Visions of a glorious hike fizzled like a malfuncitoning firecracker on the Fourth of July.
And then the insults about how I'd intentionally sabataged the afternoon because I "really didn't want to go in the first place" and how I've never been able to own up to my mistakes like the other members of my family and . . .

"I don't like you," I blurted. "You are really mean." God, I had stooped down to the level of a third grader.

"I don't like you, either." (Nah, nah . . . So there!) "And that sure doesn't bode well for us moving across the country."

"You're right," I said, rolling around in the verbal mud.

Where had I gone wrong? I just wanted the best route to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The rhythmic pounding on the window got louder and more forceful. Alan looked like a mad man about ready to do something he'd later come to regret.

Try another tact. I brought up Alan's mia culpa earlier that morning about an episode with a friend and how, instead of judging him, I had listened.

"That's a lie!" he said. "And what does that have to do with this?"

"Because when you admitted having made a mistake, I was able to take a deep breath and not continue to make you feel even worse."

"That's a bunch of crap."

I closed my eyes and silently started to repeat the mantra I'd been given years ago in a transcendental meditation class. Where was the Maharishi when I needed him?

The weather had cleared. It was a perfect afternoon for a hike. And here we were sitting in a rented Ford Focus lost in the middle of San Francisco. Our hike was on the rocks and so, it seemed, was our marriage.

Miraculously, out of the haze and confusion appeared a new sign pointing the way to US 101 North and the Golden Gate Bridge. Cautiously, calmly I suggested that we turn left. Alan followed my directive without saying a word. We drove another five minutes and there, in front of us is all its stunning glory, was the bridge spanning the the city by the bay and Marin County.
The sun danced off the water, sailboats took what wind there was, and hundreds of people strolled or ran the length of the bridge.

I rolled down my window and sucked in the clean California air, hoping that somehow the angst of the past hour would be forgotten in favor of new beginnings. With any fantasies of competing on "The Amazing Race" forever squelched, I now merely hoped that Alan and I could negotiate the ups and downs of our much more banal journey.

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