By: Ann Brown
The first argument of the trip was about whistling.
Robin whistled along to the Bob Marley CD, tapping the rhythm on the steering wheel and, every few measures, on my leg. I smiled at him and joined in on the whistling. Now, you know me; I don’t indulge in insincere gratuitous self-congratulation, preferring, instead, to indulge in insincere gratuitous self-deprecation but I must mention that my whistling skills, specifically my harmony whistling skills, might be considered reason enough to invite me along on a two week road trip to California. That, and my skill of guessing to the penny exactly how much fuel the car will take at every gas station stop. Which is not so much a skill, I’ve been told, as much as meaningless and a pain in the ass and something people really wish I would stop doing.
“Don’t whistle, okay?” Robin asked gently.
“Why? You are whistling.”
“Your whistling hurts my ears,” Robin said.
“Seriously?” I really tried to make my voice sound sincere, like I wanted to know, like I cared.
“Yeah. The high pitch or something. Please stop.”
I remember the exact moment he said that. It was in the last moments of daylight, the bonus moments of the Summer Solstice that allowed us front row, awesome views of snowy Mt. Shasta against a purple night sky in which Venus’ light guided us east. Or north. Or south. I have no idea.
I was ready to get into the fight, ready to draw upon my rapier wit for a sharp retort that would not only vindicate my whistling but also feature Robin’s wish to have me stop whistling a serious character flaw that, really, only analysis (and the subsequent blame on his mother) could address. I am pretty good at bringing a lot of unnecessary shit into an argument, a shock and awe barrage of oblique references and ancient issues presumed dormant, until the original point is obscured and the reigning point is that, well, that I am a saint, and Robin – exhausted and defeated – develops a kidney stone.
This time, however, I took it like a champ. I stopped whistling (well, I didn’t actually stop but I did whistle an octave lower than I was, which seemed to fix the problem) and, instead, focused on the mind-blowing sight of Mt. Shasta outside my car window.
We were leaving Klamath Falls after deciding not to stay the night after all, to push on for a few more hours. I was relatively mellow – for me – mulling over the random shit that life reveals when you least expect it, like eating dinner at a restaurant in Klamath, chilling, schmoozing with the guys at the table next to you who, as it turns out, recognize you from three hours earlier when you made Robin pull the car over on the highway so you could spread out a towel to lay down on the side of the road and get some sun because it had been raining for, like, 46 days in a row and even Oregonians who aren’t tanorexic like you are were going out of their minds and fuck if you were going to let fifteen minutes of blue skies go to waste sitting inside your car even though we were only a few hours into our two-week trip to sunny Southern California and no matter that Robin had that look on his face that I have come to realize means he is mentally researching residential facilities for when he finally has collected enough evidence to have me committed.
“We saw you back on Highway 23, in the sun,” Rick said as we sat down at the table next to his. “Pretty damn funny.”
The mildly interesting coincidence that we wound up eating dinner at the table next to Rick was quickly eclipsed by what came next: The Itinerant Locals, a husband/wife, tuba/accordion duo (check them out: www.polkayoureyeout.com), with their two young children, stepped off the train (the station serendipitously situated next to the restaurant) and proceeded to set up right in front of us.
Now, this kind of shit usually only happens when you are too stoned to know if it’s real or not. But there they were, a Mick Jagger lookalike tuba player in red plaid polyester pants and top hat, and his beautiful redheaded accordion playing wife, rocking the shit out of a polka-tempo Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”.
Sitting back and digging it is all you can do because nothing can make a moment like that better than it already is.
Except when Robin turns to Rick’s wife and yells over the music, “would you like to polka?” and she thinks he said, “would you like to pole dance?” and there is a huge awkward pause during which – I bet – Rick rethought the whole thing, starting with his now regrettable friendly “hello” when we walked into the restaurant.
And the only thing that can make the moment even more awkward is if I – who heard Robin correctly – turn to Rick’s wife and say, “Go ahead. Robin is a great partner!” Robin’s wingman, as it were, as if we are touring swingers who get off on luring small town high school French teachers innocently having dinner with their husbands on a Monday evening into straddling patio support beams and hanging upside down while the animal beat of polka music whips us into sexual frenzy.
After something like that, the budding friendship was pretty much shot to hell. Rick and his wife scooted their chairs to the far end of their table and Robin and I decided to keep driving on through the night instead of asking them if they could recommend a motel.
And thus, three hours later, we wound up in Redding. In a Best Western motel room overlooking the pool and hot tub. In which a sweet young couple, perhaps newlyweds, lolled amid the bubbles, enjoying the midnight stars of the night of the Summer Solstice. And softly whistling along to the music from the motel bar.
No, not really. But that would have been a kickass ending to this story.
Ann Brown is a freelance writer from Portland, OR.