North Westy

On the day before spring break, someone asked me what I was doing with my time.

"I'm going on tour with my boyfriend," I said.

Her jaw dropped. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. He's a musician, among other things."

"You know you're living every teenage girl's dream, don't you?" She grinned. "I want to hear about it after spring break."

I remember the teenage ache for a boy with a guitar in his hands, but that ache disappeared as I grew up. Musicianship wasn't something I sought out. Creativity was essential to me, but how that creativity manifested itself wasn't as important. Now, however, I have the man with a guitar in his hands, and last month, we headed out in his VW Westy and hit the Pacific Northwest.

Each night was a different town and a different show as we rolled across new-to-me landscapes and into the arms of his family at the far end of the journey.

Living (mostly) in a van with someone for nearly a week is a really good way to get to know someone better. We spent the week on the road swapping stories, figuring out pee breaks, deconstructing his performances, listening to music and podcasts then talking about both, smelling each other's farts, and enjoying being around the other. We hiked waterfalls and shopped for snappy Western shirts in a farm supply store. In all of this, the most important thing we learned about the other in such close quarters was how the other deals with discomfort or uncertainty. I forgot my toothbrush and he forgot his ukulele. We shared a toothbrush, and he swapped out the ukulele bits in his show for his guitar. When the power steering belt sounded funny, we looked for a place to fix it, neither of us fearing the worst, but both expecting success (which we found, friendly and for $20). When a place we imagined staying for the night didn't work out, we kept going, knowing that there was at least a KOA ahead, and that we'd be fine wherever we landed. For us, traveling together is imperfect and therefore easy. It is comfortable and fun and free of tension.

And lucky me, every night I got to see him perform. I could see how opening with a quiet song silenced the room and caused the audience to listen deeply for the rest of the show. I could see how well it worked when his songs held together through storylines he wove. I witnessed a woman who saw him play almost 20 years ago in St. Louis be overjoyed to find him in a small town in the center of Oregon, friends of his from band days insist on getting on stage to play with him, and new, besotted fans offer to treat us to last call after a show. On his side, he got to relish my bread and homemade jam, revel in my stories and easy humor, sit with my calm, and delight in my ability to identify—with often both common and Latin names—each plant he pointed to on our hikes.

Yes, I'm a fan, but the fandom flows both ways. And, we've smelled each other's farts.


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