When the dog days of summer hit and D.C. gets downright swampy, a lot of people start thinking about getting out of town. But the grass isn’t always greener, and in the end, you may be better off hunkering down in your air-conditioned apartment.
The weekend trip is a rite of passage for every new relationship. You get to see how things work in a new context, and you’re guaranteed to get some insights about the other person. Traveling reveals character; driving, especially. I’m a big believer that bad drivers are bad at everything in life.
I was once sitting at a red light with a woman, four cars back from the front, and she did that thing where she tapped her horn the instant the light turned green. I knew then and there that things wouldn’t work out.
We were headed to a rented cabin in West Virginia for a few days in the country. It was summer in D.C., and we thought it would be cooler out there. We stopped in a little town a half-hour from our cabin to get groceries, and on the way back to the car, a pair of local guys called me over. They were clearly drunk and had a breathalyzer attached to their steering wheel.
“Blow on that for us, would you?” One of them asked me. “We have to get home. It’s an emergency.”
“Well, if it’s an emergency,” I said. They seemed pretty down and out, so I thought I’d do them a favor. I blew into the tube, but the breathalyzer made an angry sound.
“You didn’t do it right,” said the guy who’d asked me. He looked at me with bloodshot eyes. “If you do it wrong twice in a row, it locks the steering wheel for eight hours. So do it right this time.”
This was said in a tone that was clearly threatening. “I’m going to go wait in the car,” said the woman I was with — let’s call her Mandy — and left.
I bent and blew into the tube as hard as I could. A green light blinked, and the two men smiled, patted me on the shoulder and got in. They peeled out of the parking lot and went shooting down the road. The driver was weaving a little, but he straightened out as they passed a school bus going the other way.
“Got to make nice with the locals when you come up here,” I said as I got into the car. Mandy looked at me but said nothing.
Long & Winding Road
The cabin was off a dirt road, down a winding driveway, nestled in the woods. As I was unloading everything from the car, Mandy said, “I think there’s someone in the house.”
The house looked deserted to me, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and I could imagine someone breaking in and squatting there, this nice tourist cabin that was probably empty three-quarters of the year. Maybe the two drunks whose car I’d started were squatting here, and we’d all have a laugh before I blew their car to life again and sent them on their way.
“Want me to check it out?” I asked. We hadn’t been dating long, and I knew this was a great opportunity to fool her into thinking I was a tough, alpha male type.
Goldilocks? Snow White?
“Yes. It looked like a woman. Maybe a girl. She was in the upper window.”
I unlocked the front door and went inside. It was a small but appealing cabin, recently renovated. Everything was clean and in its place; it didn’t look like anyone had been living there. Upstairs, the bed was made and everything looked untouched. I looked out the window and saw Mandy sitting in the car. She didn’t look like she was enjoying her weekend trip very much.
“It seems fine in there,” I said to her back at the car. “Maybe it was just the sun reflecting on the glass or something?”
“I don’t know,” she said, unconvinced. “But I’m not sleeping here until we really search the place, top to bottom.”
Inside, we went through every closet, looked under the bed, threw back the shower curtain, opened all the cupboards. There was no sign of anyone. We’d just started to relax, make a few jokes about being nervous city dwellers, when I noticed the outline on the kitchen floor.
Don’t Go in There
“Is that a trapdoor?” I said.
“I believe so,” Mandy said. She stood there looking down at the trapdoor, hands on hips, trying to look nonchalant.
“Should I open it?”
But I couldn’t resist, and besides, what if there was someone down there, waiting for us to fall asleep so they could creep out?
I grabbed the pull rope and swung the door up. A narrow set of stairs went down into a pitch black stone-walled cellar that looked like it extended quite a ways back.
We stood there looking down into the dark. It didn’t need to be said that neither of us was going down there. I could tell that Mandy was thinking that this entire trip had been a mistake, and I didn’t disagree.
“Do you want to sleep here tonight?” I asked.
“Me neither. Let’s just head back.”
We put the bags back in the car, did a nine-point turn, and headed back up the driveway. As we turned onto the dirt road, I looked back at the house, thinking I’d see someone stealthily moving a curtain aside to watch us go, but the house was dark and still.
The Final Nail
Going back through town, we hit a red light and sat behind a line of pickups. I could see Mandy’s hand hovering above her horn, just waiting for the light to turn.
“They’ll shoot you for that out here,” I said. “That guy in front of us literally has a gun rack on his truck.”
Mandy looked at me. “Don’t tell me how to drive,” she said.
It was a long drive back on that winding-two lane, knowing there were drunks weaving around out there, their cars blown to life by over-credulous tourists. That was the last time I took a weekend trip out of D.C., with Mandy or anyone else.