Americans see distances in a very different way to normal people… They just have so much more to work with. I know this is hardly a startling observation (Hey, have you noticed how big the US is?) but the truth of the cliché hit me hard as we traveled, my delightfully American wife and I, from Texas to Illinois for our summer adventure (#Illinois2018).

A second startling realization: It doesn’t matter how long you know someone; if you think you know everything there is to know about them, then that’s a bad sign. People should always have the potential to surprise you.

And so it turns out that my wife’s plan of “We’ll leave at 8am” did not in fact mean that I needed to be up, ready, and in the car by 8. No, this was – as the saying goes – more a guideline than a strict rule. A suggestion…a loosely felt aspiration. Live and learn. Nice to see some flexibility there. Duly noted for future scheduling.

In fact, we hit the road around 8.30ish. And that was fine. I’d been primed and ready for, ooh, 30 minutes or so.

Once we got moving, I was given the daunting responsibility of providing the soundtrack for the adventure, and I think I did an OK job.

A small cardboard box full of audio books, nuts, and pills.
Audio books, snacks, and medical supplies.

The soundtrack to Day 1 was largely provided for us by Lin-Manual Miranda. I played through the whole of the Hamilton soundtrack for my wife for the first time. Then there was the Hamilton Mix-Tape stuff. And the LMM playlist. I’m not obsessed; you’re obsessed.

Day 2 was mainly devoted to David Sedaris, specifically the Calypso audiobook, which is hypnotically good. There is less conversation on this leg, which is almost exclusively down to us both being intent on catching every word from the great man. Writing personal essays – even blog posts – is more intimidating once you hear/read how the really talented do it. And yet still I plod on.

But mostly, my role is to be present. To provide support, conversation, companionship…and to remind the driver, on a semi-regular basis, that if she is tired, I can step in for an hour or two.

“Sure,” she says. “Play that Lin-Manuel Miranda song I like, please.”

“Coming right up!”

In Starbucks, in yet another state other than Texas, I battle with the now-traditional confusion over my name. How does anyone get “Cog” from my pronunciation of my own name? Really. If everyone else gets it wrong, then maybe I need to pronounce my name right. Or change it.

Road-trip eating, my wife had explained to me on more than one occasion, isn’t the same as normal eating. Sure, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t choose to eat at a Chilie’s, for example, but Roadtrip Rules mean that a gluten-free menu and a reliably clean bathroom outweigh anything like a preference for good food. So we ate in Chilie’s and it was all I’d remembered it would be.

Do I really not eat that much salt in real life? The sodium heartburn I get there will last me to retirement.

But, the silver lining was the Home Depot store behind Chilie’s. We headed there to get me a pillow for my lower back. It was maybe the best decision of the whole journey. We found a $10 pillow and then wandered around a little, just to get some steps recorded on our step-counters (yes, we are indeed getting old). As my wife needed the bathroom, she found the gadget aisle and parked me there. “Don’t move from here,” she insisted. I promised I’d stay. And I did…because, have you seen the new thermostats you can get now? Little circles or squares that learn how you like your house to be heated/cooled…tiny gadgets that can be set by your smartphone or sinister always-listening speaker. I want one. I suppose this means that we need to buy a house, because landlords can be funny about tenants installing that kind of thing and then taking it with them.

My wife returned and said we should be going.

“Can I have 5 more minutes?” I pleaded. Reader, I did not get my 5 more minutes. Now, at last, we were on a schedule. And I was happy to stick with it.

Mid-morning of day 2 sees us in McDonald’s. I think that this may be the first time in ten years I’ve crossed the threshold of McBurger. Nothing has changed…except the people working there are perhaps even less in love with their jobs – or the people bothering them by ordering food and asking questions. I don’t know how many chicken nuggets I want. “What are my options?” I ask, despite suspecting there’s a secret “Don’t talk to the people behind the counter” rule.

My options are apparently 4, 6, 12, 20, and all the nuggets in the world. I choose six. Six nuggets seems like a reasonable amount for a grown man who really just came in to use the loo.

Vacation_2018_On the road_25
The wrong number of nuggets

And, scientifically, that was the wrong choice. Nugget 1 was incredible – juicy, salty, “meaty”…it was good. Nugget 2 was just as good. To be honest, nugget 3 went in whole…I’d found my rhythm by this point. It was halfway through nugget 4 that I began to once again fall out of love with McD’s “chicken”. So – the correct serving of nuggets, at least for me, is 3.5 every ten years. I’m learning so much on this trip already.

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