For me, the phrase “bread and butter” conjures a complex mixture of metaphor and emotion.
Combined on my plate, it is the simplest example of nutrition and indulgence.
Butter transforms bread from dry, basic ration to soul-comforting sustenance. Butter’s decadence requires moderation to be appreciated. Both benefit from their union and, of course, once combined, they are inseparable. It’s impossible to unspread butter from a slice of bread.
This expression also summons memories of me as a child, walking hand-in-hand with my Grandma Betty to the park near her house.
“Bread and butter,” she’d say, smiling down at me as she unclasped my hand when a signpost in the sidewalk broke our connection. “Bread and butter,” I’d echo up to her, completing our superstitious invocation of unity. As soon as we passed the offending obstacle, we both reached out our hands to continue on our way as one.
Uttering this incantation together over the years must have worked its magic. I still feel a living connection to her even though her death separated our paths many years ago.
As for Glenn and me, there are few better metaphors for our relationship than bread and butter. In a sympatico manifestation of Comparative Advantage, his relative strengths offset my relative weaknesses and vice versa.
For example, his sunny, trusting, and oh-so optimistic view of humanity is shaded by my dark, cynical, and pessimistic cast. And lucky for me that his noble perspective lightens my mood and prevents me from wallowing too long in sour mires of misanthropy. His preference for minimal physical activity tempers and is offset by my penchant for overdoing it – so we’re both better off in the balance. He inspires me to tame my proclivity for anxiety by trying to practice his stoic ability to “decide” not to worry about a thing until he has the time to think it through and effect an outcome. His limited sense of smell means he is better suited for stinky chores, and my bloodhound’s nose most qualifies me to determine the edibility of that leftover stew we just discovered in the back of the fridge.
In short, after more than a decade together, most areas of our respective specializations have been choreographed into a familiar tango of give and take that improves our shared experience in the world.
… and then we hit the road.
Rising to the Challenge
During the past three months, our dance has been off-tempo. Toes have been stepped on and eyes have been elbowed as we adapt to new challenges.
Taking to the road full time as RV newbies is a test for any relationship. Doing so during a global pandemic is like playing a video game for the first time … in Legendary Mode.
Yet here we are.
Being competent team players, we celebrate when we solve new problems and level-up.
We feel more experienced and capable than before. But our celebration is cut short when we discover the challenges we face also level up and get harder. Looking back at our experience so far, it’s clear we’ve leveled-up a lot.
As with any house, even one on wheels, things break and need fixing. Except since you’re in the middle of nowhere, with no internet, you must muster the wherewithal to sort things out on your own. In the process of adjusting our dance steps on the fly, we’ve settled into our complementary roles: mine is the improbable love-child of Monk and MacGyver, and Glenn’s is a Pollyannish Sheldon Cooper.
Imagine those two learning how to prime a dry water pump in the middle the desert, or managing their way through a malfunctioning trailer slideout, a misbehaving window screen, forgetting to remove wheel chocks before moving, unreliable tank sensor technology of every kind, and the unfortunate destruction of a furnace fan by an even more unfortunate rodent (RIP, Harvey the Heater Mouse).
Exhausting their best efforts, these two also realized it would be easier to pry a secret book of transmutations from an alchemist’s jealous clutch than to develop any reliable shorthand formula for the rate at which lithium iron phosphate batteries are charged by solar panels.
We’ve found that I must drive our rig along the winding, teetering edges of cliffside roads that twist Glenn into an inconsolable knot of panic. As countermeasure, he has to convey us across tall bridges – all of which I am certain sit in a perpetual state of ennui awaiting our arrival so they can plunge us to our doom as part of their imminent and sensational plans for self-destruction.
To our frustration, we’ve also learned that no matter which of us is behind the wheel, backing up a trailer with any precision remains brain-bendingly hard. As a beginner, I rank the subtlety and finesse of this elusive skill right up there with threading a needle using the kickstand of an electric scooter controlled via voice commands to a capuchin monkey at the helm, all while monitoring progress through fish-eye camera … on a ten-second delay.
What I’m saying is, it’s hard.
It’s not just knowing which way to turn the steering wheel, though that’s obviously necessary. You also have to sense when to turn the wheel and by how much. Oh, and while you’re at it, be sure to avoid hitting low-hanging branches, curbs, posts, tables, fire-rings, your beloved spouse, and any stray toddlers that happen to wander by.
Just shrug off that your new neighbors have dropped any pretense of not watching you. Twenty minutes ago they popped open a beer and settled into a folding chair to watch the show in bemused sympathy.
And I will never forget the flying spiders of Arizona.
Yep, you heard that right: Flying. Spiders.
Like a warped Tim Burton adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, we watched as dozens upon dozens of ghostly white spiders wafted by, airborne on invisible silk strands. These arachnids qua explorers had launched from mysterious harbors deep in the Sonoran Desert to investigate its sprawling expanse. Just imagine their great delight when they found such a novelty as our Libbie parked there with us inside.
Once on board, they immediately set to work, exploiting every nook and cranny to access her protected interior. Full of evil intent, they crept through minuscule vent crevices and a faulty window screen (see above) like the cursed agents of Satan they are.
In this situation, Glenn’s nerves of steel put a decisive end to each and every one of their endeavors as I stood, catatonic, balanced on one toe in the center of the room. Plus, his calm reasoning later prevented me from implementing my more radical solution of destroying everything in a sacrament of fire – burning, cleansing fire.
Our Recipe for Success
Under all these trying circumstances, it would have been understandable and even expected if Glenn and I snapped at each other, or rolled our eyes as the other suggested a plan of action we disagreed with, or treated the other with scorn when their idea didn’t pan out … again … so we now have to try to back up the trailer for the twentieth time.
Yet our special version of bread and butter has enabled us to get through all these experiences without damaging our relationship. Indeed, it’s been strengthened as we each empower the other to step up and employ their newly identified knack, or as we apply our joint brain to solve particularly stubborn puzzles.
This week, as governors and other leaders (counter-intuitively) close even the remotest public campgrounds in response to increased COVID spread, Glenn and I have another massive challenge to surmount together. Picking up the crumbled remnants of our travel plans, we have to develop a new itinerary. One that balances safety with the weather patterns all while allowing us to be in some area central to our original plans in the event that even one of our precious, far-future reservations is not cancelled.
We didn’t know whether we’d regret taking the leap to embark on our long-planned dream of vagabonding in what has become these unprecedented times. It was a tough call to make.
We still don’t know how it will all turn out in the end.
But we do know that with our own unique combo of intelligence, creativity, grit, and generous doses of patience and mutual kindness, we’ll get through this – as one.