The situation was not ideal. I was hungry. I was tired. I had PMS.
It was my first blogger meet-up, and I wanted to make a good impression. My friend Philadelphia Girl and I were driving from Portland to Eugene for a conference, and I offered a fellow blogger a ride in our rental car. I was hoping he would see this as a magnanimous gesture, one that would mark me a generous and wonderful friend.
Of course, the gesture was undercut when I decided to make Green-haired Blogger drive. Well, I hate driving in a strange city. I'm a terrible driver. Then I told him he had to get up at dawn because I wanted to take the scenic route. And then once we were in the car, I told him he was driving too fast and had to slow down. And then we slowed way down anyhow, because somehow I had timed our departure from Portland to coincide with rush hour traffic and we ended up in a traffic jam. Then I told him he couldn't change lanes because the sideways motion made me sick. The distance from Portland to Eugene is about 95 miles, but the scenic route ended up taking us ten hours. Yes. Ten. Hours. Ten very long hours. It turns out that the route to the coast is full of twisting roads that made me motion sick, and I had to keep asking Green-haired Friend to pull over so I could vomit.
The great thing about seeing a blogging friend in person is that you get to see his gestures. Green-haired Blogging Friend has very expressive eyes and body language. Within minutes of meeting him, I was able to catalogue many of his expressions: The Eye Roll. The Hair Toss. The Glimpse of a Smile. The Sideways Look. The Slouch. The Finger Drumming. The Nervous Giggle. The Thumb Twiddling. The Hair Tousle. The Fingernail Chewing. The Wide-eyed Look. The Direct Look. The Spontaneous Laugh. The Full Smile.
He is animated when he walks or talks. He cannot carry a bottle of soda without flipping it upside down into the air and catching it. He drums his fingers against the steering wheel as he drives, his body moving to some tune inside his head. And yet, he knows how to listen. All this movement disappears when he is listening, then even his hands are still, and his eyes will stare directly at you so that you know he is hearing even the parts you aren't saying.
Ask him a difficult question and you can see him thinking. Often he will look away as if he thinks the answer is going to be written on the side of a building. And he shrugs. Characters in books are always shrugging, but I had never seen anyone in real life who had mastered the full shrug. I myself do not come from a community of shruggers. But Green-haired Friend has a whole arsenal of shrugs, from the simple Shoulder Shrug to the Full Shrug, complete with an Eye Roll, Visible Shoulder Movements, and Dramatic Hand Gestures.
By the time we were a couple hours into what was supposed to be a quick commute to Eugene, I was nauseous and miserable, on the edge of a migraine, and my behavior was reduced to that of a whining four-year-old. My plans to impress my blogging friend with my wisdom and maturity (I am a full ten years older than he is) had fallen apart. We stopped at a little gas station along the edge of a twisting mountain road because I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GET OUT OF THE CAR right that very moment.
"You okay?" Sideways look. Hand gesture.
"I am going to be sick," I said. "I am never ever getting back into that car. Never. Ever."
"Okay," Sideways look. Simple Shoulder Shrug.
Luckily, he seemed completely capable of handling bratty four-year-old behavior. It's easy to see he is an experienced Dad. I was wearing sneakers with those stupid thick round laces that untie all the time and had given up tying the laces, and I could tell that my untied shoelaces were driving him nuts.
Eventually, of course, I did get back in the car. We couldn't stay at that gas station forever, lovely as it was with all those exhaust fumes from traffic backed up because of construction. But I was on the edge of a migraine, and I was feeling panicky. It's really no fun to have a migraine when you are stuck in a rental car in the middle of nowhere.
"You can't put the car in reverse," I said, "That motion makes me sick."
"Okay," he said. He pointed to the wall in front of the car, and shrugged, a shoulder shrug with eye roll and hand gestures. So I got back out of the car and walked to the curb, where he picked me up. Philadelphia Girl, taking a turn sitting in the backseat, was not feeling well either. She was not saying much.
"You think I should take some dramamine?" I asked. Philadelphia Girl started talking about homeopathic remedies for motion sickness, while Green-haired Friend looked at me in disbelief. This was a new look, but the meaning was clear: you've got dramamine in your backpack and you didn't take it yet? Yes, indeed, I was impressing him with my wisdom and maturity.
The misty green mountains were beautiful, but I felt too sick to notice. I was determined not to stop again until we reached the coast, where we could match my stops to be sick with some scenic overlooks. But somehow, we weren't moving fast enough.
"I am going to throw up," I announced.
"Okay," he said. Sideways look. By then, my face was probably the colour of his hair. He veered off to the side, hit the brakes, and I stumbled out while the car was still moving.
I am an expert at vomiting by the side of the road. I know how to pull my hair back so it doesn't get icky, and how to stand to avoid splashing my sneakers. I had no doubt that I was impressing Green-haired Friend with these hidden skills. I climbed a little hill to a grove of trees, and leaned against one of the trees, feeling utterly wretched.
When I stumbled back into the car, Philadelphia Girl handed me a peppermint. I felt strangely better. And we were almost to the coast. The sight of the Pacific Ocean, with waves foaming up around huge jutting rocks and sandy beaches, made me feel better. We stopped at every scenic overlook, sometimes climbing down to put our hands in the water. I splashed some salt water onto my face, and tasted the ocean. The dramamine finally kicked in, and the nausea disappeared.
We saw sea otters playing in the surf. We stopped at the famous sea lion caves, and stood with other humans in a cage, behind a chain link face, staring into a grotto full of sea lions, some sleeping in the sun, some playing in the water, some barking to each other. The cold ocean wind had driven the last of the motion sickness away, and even the fishy smell of the cave did not bother me.
Eventually, we got to the conference. Hours late. And yet, I did not regret the taking the scenic route. It was the first time my Green-haired Friend had seen the Pacific Ocean. And the trip had been a strangely satisfying way to meet a fellow blogger. Because if someone sees you at your worst, vomiting and cranky and just totally miserable, and still likes you anyhow, that's when you know the friendship is real.