The one question we're often asked about our travels is how Joan and I manage to get along and avoid the tension that comes with any trip that involves long drives into the night, lots of packing and unpacking of the car, a husband who does not like to be inconvenienced and a wife who constantly thinks we should stop to walk the dogs. The answer is simple: You can't avoid some occasional tension. But the minute it starts to define the trip, you need to turn around and go home.
Before our 2003 trip, we worked out an terrific system which resulted in an almost tension-free trip. It was based on one simple concept: Each individual responsibility was assigned to one of us. Clearly, and for the duration of the trip. No substitutions allowed. Sounds simple, I know. But when you divide responsibilities that cleanly, there is no marital tension around who's taking the dogs out first thing in the morning, or who's going to pack the car. It doesn't mean we like all our responsibilities, but using this system, any frustration isn't directed AT someone; it's just normal everyday frustration.
Based on the success of that structure in 2003, we didn't change a thing for FHMA. Some of the assignments have changed, but not the overall structure. So, without further ado...
- The Dogs: Joan walks the dogs. Joan feeds the dogs. Joan handles any medical issues that arise with the dogs. Joan bathes the dogs (and they so love that). She is the Dog Whisperer of the FHMA tour. The only exception to this rule is when we're getting out of the car: Since we're often trying to get Fred and Hank out of the car near busy roads, we each are responsible for getting one out of the car. I handle Fred, and Joan handles Hank. And if Joan needs to use the facilities, I take both. But Joan does 95 percent of what it takes to keep the beagles healthy and happy. Joan also maintains the Beagle Nirvana Bag, which has their food, toys, treats and other items that have the dogs staring longingly at it all day long.
- Picking Up Poop: Now, this is really a subset of the dog item, but worth a callout. Now, for the record, if Joan is the one walking the dogs all the time, it stands to reason she'd be the one picking up poop. But she wanted this called out, and I definitely understand why. When we were checking into the FireSky Resort in Scottsdale last week, Joan went to check in and asked me if I'd walk the dogs. I did -- see, we're not completely inflexible about responsibilities -- and, in all honestly, I was hoping the dogs would save the deuce for another time. Instead, as soon as we got to the grass, they both stopped and dropped. So while the original draft of this post noted I had not picked up any poop on the trip, that is no longer true.
- Packing & Clothing: Before we left, Joan was responsible for packing clothes for both of us, and making sure the dogs had what they needed. On the trip, she's responsible for laying out clothes for both of us, largely because she doesn't want me tearing through the well-organized suitcase she's put together. She hasn't said this, but from a fashion perspective, she's probably also protecting me from myself.
- Photography: Joan is FHMA's official photographer. I take some pictures, but have neither the talent nor the time to get too deep into taking photos for anything other than personal use. I don't need to tell anyone who's been following our trip, but Joan is an amazing photographer. Blessed with a great eye for detail, she's taken some amazing photos of those up-close moments that I always miss.
- Laundry: This has been well established. Frankly, I have no joke here, My sense of humor must be in the wash.
- Hotel Reservations: Joan the Tiger continues to tear into the Hotel Gazelle du Jour and get us the best possible rates on hotel rooms. Like the laundry, this responsibility may seem boring when you read it, but really, I think she loves it.
- Checking In at Hotels: When we arrive at any hotel, Joan is the one who goes and gets us all set up. Since we often arrive late, she is also frequently confronted with a lonely night staffer at the front desk, and long conversations sometimes ensue. This is why it's good that I'm not the check-in person. I was not blessed with great patience in my life.
- Note-Taking: Joan owns "the notebook," in which she captures events, road signs, ideas or anything else that we want to make note of and work into the blog. Because my short-term memory is so bad, it just seems like it would make sense to ... ah ... crap, I forgot what I was saying.
- Music Shuffle of the Day: Joan also works the iPod to generate our Shuffle Song of the Day. I blame her for turning up all that movie music.
- Trip Planning & Research: I'm the one who goes through all the travel books and Web sites that we use to determine where to go. This includes managing our loose schedule, determining the specific route we take and researching all the places we're thinking of visiting.
- Writing FHMA: I write this blog, obviously. This is not an insignificant fact, though I have always been blessed with the ability to write quickly, thanks to the brutal deadlines that came with being a sportswriter, as I was early in my career. Writing this has also allowed people to see another side of me, which has undoubtedly led many friends to wonder, "How the hell does he not know how many axles he has?"
- Maintaining Blog: I am continually making tweaks to the design and settings of the blog, though many of them aren't obvious. I am still learning TypePad, and finding new things to try every day.
- Distributing the Blog: When I was at washingtonpost.com, I was a strong proponent of distributing Post content in as many ways as possible, and I'm walking the walk with this blog. In addition to the blog itself, we have an RSS feed, a Twitter feed that pulls from that RSS, a Facebook group that I update with each post, and even good, old-fashioned e-mail (there's an e-mail distro list that each post it sent to). If you can't find Fred & Hank Mark America, it will try and find you.
- Getting Gas: Yeah, yeah, I can hear the jokes already: "Heck, seeing what you're eating, that doesn't seem hard." <rimshot> But, seriously folks, I am the one who stops and fills up. We've had two near-emergencies on the gas front: one really close call (Little Rock, Ark., on a Sunday morning, where we were down to our last mile) and one slightly-worrisome situation (rural Alabama, where we were 10 miles away from running out of gas). I also occasionally clean the windshield, but as chronicled earlier, Fred doesn't take well to this.
- Managing Money: In addition to making sure we have enough cash on us at all times, I'm also making sure our bills get paid online while we're away.
- Scheduling Car Stops: Obviously, if either Joan or the dogs have an urgent need, I stop. But, barring that, I'm the one who's doing most of the stopping. It's a familiar routine. I stop at a QT, 7-11 or Circle K to get a huge soda, then stop an hour later to go the bathroom, then stop and get another big soda, and then stop to go to the bathroom. Joan has learned to accept this, and I can't thank her enough.
- BlackBerry Monitoring: If I want to check the latest headlines, or check out baseball scores, or if Joan wants to check the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship results, I am the one who can produce that information quickly via BlackBerry. All at 70 mph.
- Packing Car & All Things Spatial Relations-Related: Before both the Fred Takes America and Fred & Hank Mark America tours, Joan looked at everything we wanted to bring, looked at the car and said, "No fucking way." I, of course, took that as a challenge, and managed to use every inch of space to fit it all. The rare times when Joan tries to repack the car, she's able to get one bag in the car before crying uncle. This does seem to be a gender issue, I have to say. So I pack and re-pack the car every time we go to a new hotel.
- Driving: Oh, yeah. This one seems worthy of note. We've driven 7,445 miles so far on this trip, and while Joan drove the car when I was back at home, I have driven every single mile that we've been in the car together, with the exception of a 30-mile trip home from a friend's house last week. I strongly prefer this setup, for reasons described in Joan's traveler profile. It's worth mentioning here that, when Joan and I both worked at AOL, she once left for the office 15 minutes before me, and despite the fact it's only a half-hour ride, I passed her. As I blew down Route 28 at about 65mph, I saw her in the right lane on her cell phone going about 30mph. So either I drive, or she drives me crazy.
Overall, we feel like the workloads are pretty evenly divided. And, let's be honest, if they weren't, one of us would have said something by now. Right, sweetie? Joan?...