Thursday morning, I sat next to my coworker Tammy at a long table in a bland conference room at the Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells. It was the start of day 2 of a grueling grantee meeting hosted by the State. State with a capital S. Tammy started to speak.
“You know… I feel like I should say. Actually…” and she stopped abruptly, turning toward me. “No, this is important, this requires eye contact.”
I turned toward her. She started to speak again. “I feel I need to say…” and it was my turn to stop her.
“Hang on,” I said. “This is going to need more than just eye contact.” And I folded my hands over the top of hers.
Tammy spoke again, “I’ve really enjoy traveling with you. It needed to be said.”
I responded in kind, “Same!” Plus some, “I really think you need some lotion.”
And we giggled like school girls until the presenter got things going. In Tammy’s words, the meeting had been a “fresh hell” and after several good and several bad trips, this had been our friendship forging battle — Tammy and I are travel buddies, through and through.
On Monday, I brought Tammy four travel sized bottles of lotion. She brought me three quarts of homegrown raspberries for pi(es). I absolutely adore Tammy…
Yet, a year ago I could not have imagined this closeness. Not that I had any real evidence to the contrary. Only imaginary. It’s sad that I let that stop me from road tripping for as long as I did. Let me explain…
Long before I started my new job in the Center for Community Outreach I was already working with my newly beloved crew. Believe it or not, a big part of community engagement involves actually going out into the communities. In cars. Even when the community is kind of far away.
So naturally, for the first year or so of all this traveling, I drove myself. Audiobook all the way. Completely on my own dime. Because… what on God’s green earth was I going to be able to talk about with strangers on a car trip for hours on end??? Nothing. That’s what. So I couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t, anyway.
The emails always came out about carpooling and ridesharing, time tables, and rental reservations, but I never jumped in the pool. I just couldn’t take the plunge. The thought alone made me uncomfortable and panicky. So I begged off, out, or around in whatever way I could. Always some reason or another.
But then came last summer and our first ever “Roadshow” — just me and Sheila making visits to all of our HOPE Consortium partners scattered across five counties and three tribes in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. There was no out. And I was nervous.
I tried to think up topics. What would this brilliant, experienced addictions nurse and director of numerous programs want to talk about with her awkward, sweaty driver? I couldn’t even think straight. I sweat some more. Eyes on the road. Hands at 10 and 2.
And because anxiety is pretty much always the same – pointless – our summer 2016 HOPE Consortium Roadshow was a BLAST. Sheila is incredible and I quickly grew to look forward to our long conversations in the car. It was disappointing when we had to go north up Highway 13 and I had to spend the first 30 minutes alone, stopping to pick Sheila up only once I got to Abbotsford.
After a few trips with Sheila, I thought maybe I’d give it a shot with the rest of the crew on the way north for HOPE Consortium Steering Committee meetings. Nerves struck, of course, before the big day — and each time someone different and relatively unfamiliar was going to be in the car — but each time, my anxiety was all for naught. Every trip has been a great time, a chance to get to know some amazing women just a little bit better.
Sheila was first; she is my mother earth and spirit animal. Then came Kayleigh, Leila, Tammy, Becky, and JoAnna. We’re basically a club of enthusiastic chicken eaters and one vegetarian (seriously – if you ever get the chance to have Reuland’s chicken in Minocqua, you’ll want in the club too). Never a dull moment, never a boring trip. I’ve actually even almost shaken the nerves at this point. Tammy and I went to and from Minneapolis a few weeks ago and had our beautiful (and ridiculous) heart-to-heart in the Dells just last week. Leila and I have been cruising all around the state. Every time is a little bit more awesome.
I suck in big social situations — small talk is so hard for me. Weather, Wisconsin, Wisconsin weather… it’s awkward and uncomfortable. But something about the car makes you instantly deeper. Maybe it’s the movement, lack of direct eye contact, road noise. Whatever it is, it lets you go deeper faster, be more genuine, and those are my favorite kinds of conversation. We talk about our families and our relationships. Our work and the communities we serve. We share stories, make jokes, laugh, and eat good food. The car, the long trips, the early starts, and coordinated gas stops and key drops when we get home – it helps us bond. We get more personal and it makes work really, really good.
When I think back to a year ago and my fear of those long trips, I really feel like I should have known better. I work with amazing women. And everywhere we go together — every county, every tribe, there are more amazing women doing good work. (And men too, but honestly – it’s probably 80% women in this line of work.) I’m always scared, but I’m always wrong. And I’d like to really learn that lesson this time.
Last Thursday, after Tammy’s and my big moment… and four more hours of the lamest meeting on earth, we joined the boss lady for lunch before heading home in our monster truck (because you never know what you’re going to get when you rent and this time, we had quite the beasty, which is extra funny when tiny Tammy is behind the wheel). We were having a great time and I confessed, over Noodles (with a capital N), how nervous I’d been about carpooling for those first couple years. Ronda gaped at me… and Tammy: “Even ME?!” Yes, I was scared… even of Tammy, the newest love of my life. And I’ve still never ridden with Ronda, the best boss on earth.
But I’ll keep riding with Tammy. Someday I’ll ride with Ronda. And I won’t ever turn away from the opportunity to carpool again — not in this line of work. There’s too much to learn and to share and so many miles of road on which to do it.