I think I've discovered why the divorce rate is so high. It isn't because He squeezes the toothpaste tube from the center or because You forgot to pick up his shirts and suits from the dry cleaners for his business trip tomorrow.
No, the reason is much more complex than that: He's driving, You're navigating and You get Him lost. The classic situation is guaranteed to transform a mild-mannered, loving husband into an enraged Hulk while he mimics the contrived sweetness of J. R. Ewing.
When lost, instead of terms of endearment, He addresses You by your proper name (the way your mother did when she was mad). Then the ultimate insult: He shortstops the car on the road's shoulder, simultaneously tearing the map from your hands and calculating just how far off course you are from where you should be. The mental degradation and conviction of stupidity inflicted on the wife with a Ph.D. gives battering a good name.
My husband and I have repeated this scene in some of the best places, both here and abroad. There was the time I almost left him on a superhighway on the outskirts of Paris. (I had the tickets home.) And who could forget the Washington dinner party that waited for us when we were only blocks from our destination -- many times. (It's the last half-mile that's the killer.)
Most recently, The Incident occurred in suburban Boston, Chestnut Hill to be exact. We were staying with a friend's mother, Mrs. Krupp, and someone had picked us up at the airport and delivered us there. Trouble didn't surface 'til the next day when we borrowed a family car and went out on our own. As we left the house, I carefully noted the turns in the road and mentally remembered that Mrs. Krupp lived in the white house about three-fourths down the block off the main street after the circle. We set out in broad daylight.
Night plays strange tricks: My instincts failed at day's end and I had neglected to get the street address of our hostess. Much to my dismay, a lot of white houses that looked like Mrs. Krupp's had mysteriously been built since we left hers that morning. The only shortage was pay phones in this lovely residential neighborhood, which became my own Twilight Zone.
An hour later, as my husband's temper progressively erupted into Mt. St. Helen's proportions, we finally resorted to a neighbor's phone to call Mrs. Krupp and get her address and directions. We arrived -- harried and hassled -- scant minutes after the call.
It was at the moment, stiff drink in hand, that I resolved to change my wild ways. No more relying on faulty instinct. Vowing to preserve my marriage at least long enough to celebrate its 10th anniversary, I made my resolution:
Yes, I recognize my problem and I will join AAA.
The people in the Washington office of the American Automobile Association -- 1730 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 3rd floor; easy to find without maps -- were, unlike my husband, sympathetic and understanding. They said I was not alone; some of the other 21.6 million mortals who belong also seek counsel with the map's routing division, one of many services offered by AAA and a myriad of other auto clubs.
After shelling out $39.50 for my membership (spouse and other family members are each an additional $15), I enlisted the expertise of AAA trip counselor Martin Morris.
"Could you, " I kept muttering incoherently, "could you have gotten me to Mrs. Krupp's without getting lost?"
After Morris got me to repeat the horror story (even more painful in the retelling), he extracted the information that Mrs. Krupp lived in the Chestnut Hill section of Boston on an obscure, hard-to-find, small street called Kensington Circle.
"You find it," I commanded.
Rising to the challenge and enthusiastically gathering the tools of his trade -- colored pens and markers, stamps, stickers, maps (from an AAA collection of 161 million maps) -- he found Kensington Circle.
Delighting in the game, I asked him to route a trip all the way from D.C. to Boston, just in case we ever visit again. Green markers led a path on the map; after consultation with an ever-changing book of construction sites, his red pen drew signals indicating current construction projects and alternate routes. Yet more doodads showed areas known for radar traps; speeder beware.
Roughly 45 minutes later, I emerged from the auto-club office laden with my bounty, which included, among other things: three large state maps, a city map of Boston and environs, and my personal "Triptik," an individualized guidebook with specific routing and finer map details for the D.C.-to-Boston trip, an astonishing series of 34 mini-maps complete with legends indicating campsites, hotels, points of interest and towns with AAA clubs, in case anything goes wrong.
Arms laden and overflowing, I smugly went to my husband's office, dumped everything on his desk and asked when he was taking me to see Mrs. Krupp again.