On Friday night, Bob and I went to Neighbor State, to celebrate his birthday, which is a bigger deal than it sounds. Consider:
1. We tried to visit Neighbor State in 2009, and failed. The mounting costs of dismantling our house, coupled with the mounting costs of keeping our Jeep running, changed all vacations to staycations for the foreseeable future.
2. We tried to visit Neighbor State in 2010 for Bob’s 43rd birthday, but failed again, because we’d forgotten we were still broke.
3. Bob was in the hospital two weeks back, with chest pains. (?!) He turned out to be fine, but since he has a family history of heart disease, we were worried it would turn out to be something serious. After that, we’ve both been very grateful just to be around each other.
All this should give you some idea why this simple trip across the lake on a car-ferry was more than just an outing, and why I was convinced for much of the drive that something would go horribly wrong.
Like when we passed through Delburgh, and the tarmac got a bit rougher. “Bob, do you hear that? Do you think it’s the tires?”
My freaking was well-intentioned. I just wanted to get us to the hotel for his birthday, like I promised. I explained this to Bob.
“I know you do,” he said. “And I also know that you will do whatever you can to subconsciously ensure we don’t.”
“But I know that too!”
* * *
Miraculously, we got across the water, and drove the twenty minutes to the crackpot college town where we would be staying while we visited.
We walked through the center square to find jugglers in the streets, a guitar chick singing “Fidelity” outside a used bookstore, and gaggles of young hippies with cardboard signs, looking for spare change. Crowded bars, horn-rimmed glasses and beards everywhere. You get the picture.
The Neighbor State is like that. A kind of green liberal utopia. People like Bob and I can even marry there–it’s been legal for a while, no big woop. Meanwhile, in my home state, such rights have remained a point of contention for years. Even as Bob and I snuck past the Greenpeace advocates on Main Street that night, the matter was being voted on in our senate, and we were pretty sure it would be shot down.
Naturally people have often asked me, why not just relocate? Isn’t Neighbor State just like Lonesome Valley, when you get down to it? A bunch of green hills, barns and bleeding hearts?
Actually, there are ways that Neighbor State is better than Lonesome Valley. Lots of them, and not just the matrimony. For instance, it’s a fact that there’s more money to be made over there, and lots of it. There’s more doctors, too. (It’s a sure sign that you’ve got something serious if my office sends you to Neighbor State for treatment, no joke.)
There’s also wine in supermarkets, something my home state has yet to trust itself with. And Neighbor State is prettier all around–not the environment per say, which is similar to ours, but the buildings, professional and otherwise. People over there just know how to make things look appealing and welcoming, whereas the Lonesome Valley folks expect you to take in the natural beauty and ignore the rest. Sure this restaurant is in some dude’s living room, but get a look at those mountains!
Trouble is, the people who live in Neighbor State drive Bob and I nuts. We can’t even put our fingers on why. Maybe, as liberal as we are, these folks outliberal us. There’s certainly something doe-eyed and idealistic about them, and it alienates us on a central level. Or could it be the simple fact that their state doesn’t suck enough? That they haven’t earned the right to be so cuddly? It’s true that there’s something hard-won about learning to love The City, and there’s something similarly hard-won about learning the ropes of Lonesome Valley. “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…” as the song says.
Neighbor State doesn’t feel like that. It’s not antagonistic. It doesn’t bite you back. How can you trust a place like that?
* * *
Bob and I puzzled over this on our drive home, trying out theories. And when we were done talking about that, we started talking about the plans for our upcoming wedding.
Because on the eve before Bob’s birthday, shortly after we ducked into a Neighbor State Denny’s to hide from the hipsters, my phone started lighting up with texts. The senate passed it: Our home state had made it legal for us to get married.
And we didn’t even have to defect!