Irritation: or, Drove to Chicago

I've made a lot of mistakes

(Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. The upshot: we all survived and are doing okay in a post-vacation world.)

As a kid, I always got far too excited about family vacations, and picked out things to do that went ignored. For example, on a trip to Portland, I wanted to visit the world’s first Self-Cleaning House (currently lived-in, by appointment only, $10 cash per person), which my family declined on the grounds that it was “too weird.” I spent a lot of time on those trips nearly vibrating out of my skin with boredom at: the long car rides, the constant bathroom stops, the sameness of going to different places but always visiting the brewpub-bookstore-art gallery, the sleeping in too late, the never staying out past sunset. Infuriating.

In my early twenties I was living in Maine but everyone I knew lived in Richmond, so I did most of my traveling alone. I booked my tickets through discount sites, talked my friend Anthony into dropping me off at the Bangor Airport (which was about as formal as a bus station) and from there on my cheap-ass online ticket I’d embark on a system of manic layovers (once, improbably, layovers in both New York and Philadelphia). I loved it; it affirmed my competence, even when I got lost, or misplaced important things in mad dashes from gate to gate.

Now of course, I am an adult, and travel with people who believe in my competence. None of them, however, seem to actually enjoy traveling. We are in Chicago, which is gorgeous, and they are all lying down playing on their computers. They are tired and cranky. They want to do nothing and see nothing. The differences between Home and Away strike them as intolerable and they make no secret of it:

  • My Colleague, who would be perfectly content to camp in the wilderness under a big rock, was unsettled by the presence of other apartments in the Airbnb we stayed at for a single night on our way to our final destination. He kept checking the (deadbolted) door that led to an interior hallway with a flight of stairs up to the next apartment. “Is anyone up there?” he kept asking. The noise of me trying to use the bathroom in the early morning caused him to jolt awake in panic.

  • The Other, who is usually nocturnal and reclusive, is unsettled by being out during the day. The woman who owns our current Airbnb in Chicago lingered to chat with us about her broken dishwasher and her grandchildren, and he paced around like a caged tiger the whole time, muttering things like “why is she still here?” right on the edge of earshot. He also categorically hated FallingWater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house we visited on the way; immediately after our guided tour, he declared it a creepy monument to Edgar Kaufman Jr.’s late-blooming sexuality and said “I hope it sinks into the swamp.”

  • The Beloved, the most emotionally solid traveler of our bunch, is manifesting her travel anxiety somatically. She’s been bleary and headachey, which makes her unhelpful in getting anything done, which is a shame, because both of our usually-delightful menfolk are unraveling at the seams. Today she slept until noon, leaving me alone with two men I typically think of as my lodestars, who the trip has bonded into a kind of anxious Laurel and Hardy. Whenever I tried to point out the many delightful things we could see on our walk to buy train tickets, they ignored me and talked exclusively about video games, which they don’t seem to be aware exist at all times, not just when one is in an exciting new location.

But of course, I am not blameless in this. If I were to catalog the things that make your Affectionate Aunt an untenable travel companion for these lovely people, it would probably be something like this:

  • Messed up the start and end dates in their head, and then got mad at everyone else for not correcting them

  • Dismissive of safety concerns, especially about their own driving

  • Clearly jonesing to go shopping, despite already having packed more clothes and doodads than anyone else in the group

  • Keeps up running commentary on the names and appearances of every building we pass, even when other people are clearly having a pleasant conversation about Metroid 2077 or whatever

  • Won’t sit down and stop doing things, but still irritated at everyone else for failing to do anything. Tries to drag people into helping or joining in (on walks, making dinner, etc) without seeming to be at all happy or grateful for their presence when they are there, and reacting with barely-concealed contempt when they decline.

Traveling with a group, it turns out, sets me off in the same way that traveling with my family used to set me off. I feel penned in by everyone else’s (probably actually reasonable) needs for things like rest and quiet, I worry that I am the weird one in a group of people who are themselves experiencing consensus (even if that’s my imagination), and I reflect contemptuously that I’d be better off on my own (even though I would be having a different kind of anxious time if I were here by myself). But knowing I’m bananas doesn’t make me feel any less bananas.

As you can see, after this trip we will all either be much closer, or one or more of us will be dead. Please pray for our continued survival in this beautiful sprawling monument to Art Deco design; more updates once we have managed to leave the house.

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