87: Road Trip to Friendship

87: Road Trip to Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Road Trip to Friendship

No road is long with good company.

~Turkish Proverb

We met through an online writing/critique group for women. Since the group members were spread out across the world, I wasn’t looking for a friend. I just wanted to exchange critiques with other writers to improve my writing.

Within a couple of weeks I noticed that one of the writers, Mavis, tended to have the same opinions as I did. When she liked a piece, so did I. Even more importantly, when she didn’t like a piece, neither did I — even if everybody else thought the piece was great.

I began to look for her name and read each of her critiques carefully, no matter whom she was critiquing, applying many of her suggestions to my own writing. Word by word, sentence by sentence, my writing improved.

After one particularly thorough critique of a piece of mine that had me alternately smiling and cringing, I e-mailed her privately. She responded. Soon we were e-mailing each other every couple of days, but always about writing. At some point, the e-mails turned into long-distance phone calls, still with a writing bent. To this day I’m still not sure who made the first call.

Then, about six months later, the writing group decided to hold a face-to-face conference down in Virginia. Since I prefer to spend my days behind a computer screen rather than with people, I was nervous about spending four or five days with a group of women I barely knew. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to spend that much time with women I did know.

However, with some arm-twisting by the moderator, I agreed to attend. About a week later Mavis decided she would come, too.

I was about to book my flight from Toronto to Dulles when Mavis, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, called. “I have a problem,” she said. “When I went to renew my passport, the clerk wouldn’t process my application. Apparently there’s a mistake on my birth certificate and there’s not enough time to fix it and get a new passport, so I can’t fly into the States.”

“What will you do?” I asked.

“I suppose I could take the ferry to Seattle and show other ID at the border. It’ll be a few months before we need passports to travel by land. Then I could just fly from Seattle.”

“Or,” I said, “you could fly to Toronto and we could drive down together.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to stuff them back in. A week before I had been worried about sharing a cabin with women I didn’t know and here I was suggesting I spend two days in a car with someone I only knew through e-mails and phone calls.

There was a pause on her side as she thought about it. “We could do that. I have some friends and ex-family in Toronto I haven’t seen in a while. I’d come down a couple of days early, stay with them until the night before we leave, and then we’d drive down. If we split the driving, it shouldn’t be too bad.”

“Slight problem. I don’t drive. But I can read a map and I’ll print out Google directions. How lost can we get?”

“So, you want to do this?”

“Sure,” I said, gulping a little. Before I could change my mind, we made our arrangements and set a date for her to appear on my doorstep.

The moment I got off the phone, anxiety set in. I called my best friend. “Susan, I’ve done something really stupid. Remember that woman I was telling you about? Mavis. The one in my writers’ group. Well, I suggested we drive down to the conference in Virginia.”

Susan laughed. “Why is that stupid?”

“Why?” I said. “Because it’s a two-day drive, so we’ll be sharing a motel room on the way down and again on the way back.”

“I repeat: Why is that stupid?”

“What if Mavis is an axe murderer? Or she snores? Or worse, she’s one of those drivers who picks her nose while she drives.” I’d barely gotten the last word out when I realized what I sound like. “I’m being an idiot, right?”

Susan said what all best friends would say in this situation. “Yes, a complete idiot.”

Three weeks later, a tall woman with gray hair rang my doorbell. I opened the door and we stared at each other for a moment. Then she said, “You’re going to think I’m nuts but I just have to ask you one question. You’re not by any chance an axe murderer, are you?”

I grinned. “Nope. I was going to ask you the same thing.”

She shook her head and grinned back at me. Suddenly, the trip really did seem like a good idea.

The next day we picked up our rental car, drove back to my place and loaded it with suitcases, a cooler stuffed with hardboiled eggs, milk, juice, cheese, and dips, plus bags of fruit, crackers, chips, nuts, and other munchies.

“You know,” Mavis said, nibbling on a cracker, “calories you eat on the road don’t count. Oh, and I’m not sure if I told you, but I can only drive for about two hours before I need to rest my wrists.” She held them. “Carpal tunnel.”

“Perfect,” I said. “I’ll need to go to the bathroom about then. Middle-aged bladder.”

We both laughed. The good idea turned into a great one.

For the next two days, Mavis drove and I navigated — mostly correctly. We began by talking about our writing, but within a couple of hours we were laughing and talking about friends, family, pets, and our lives in general. It was hard to believe that we had only officially met the day before.

As we pulled up at the conference site, I turned to her. “I don’t care how the conference goes. This has been the best road trip of my life.”

“I know what you mean,” she said. “And we still have the trip back home. I can think of at least a dozen stories I haven’t told you yet.”

At the end of the conference, we filled out evaluation sheets. One of the questions was: What was the most important thing you got out of the conference? I thought about the information I had learned about marketing, about writing personal essays, about making a pitch to an agent. I thought about all the notes I’d taken. I thought about putting faces and voices to the names I’d seen online for a couple of years.

But in the end, I wrote three words: A new friend.

~Harriet Cooper

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