"What do you think?" I ask Jessica.
"It is unbelievable," she says.
"Better than Texas?"
I glance over at her in the car's passenger seat. Her expression is somewhere between a religious experience and a Gomer Pyle impression.
When we left for this trip, we were barely speaking. We had been fighting for weeks about a banking error that resulted in our having a lot less money than we thought we had, and like most newlyweds, we didn't have much to begin with. Jessica had made a mistake, and she was mad at me for not blaming the bank.
"But it wasn't the bank's fault," I said.
"That's not the point," she retorted. "You didn't support me."
"Why should I support you if you are wrong?"
"You didn't know I was wrong when you started not supporting me."
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is what I like to call our template argument: I'm right on the facts; she wins the argument.
And so we are here, in New England, in fall. Settling a different argument.
As it happens, it's about New England in the fall.
Shortly after we were married that April, I had said something about autumn and bemoaned the lack of it in Texas.
Jessica grew up in the Lone Star State and insisted, as only a Texan can, that Texas does, too, get autumn - and as good as can be found anywhere. Well, missy, I responded, I grew up in Philly and spent my teenage years in Michigan and lived a spell in Maine, and I don't mean to burst your bubble, but autumn in Texas is the black-and-white part in the Wizard of Oz, as opposed to the Technicolor part.
And so we spent the summer of our newlywed year arguing over the season to come. That is, when we weren't arguing about banking errors.
Finally, we decided to settle the debate by taking a delayed honeymoon to the East Coast.
ROAD TRIPS CAN either cure or kill a relationship. Any relationship. Boyfriend-girlfriend. Husband-wife. Parent-child. Hitchhiking stranger with long knife hidden in backpack-kindly driver who picks him up.
I've been on all sorts of road trips. Family road trips from Philly to Niagara Falls; from Flint, Michigan, to Florida; and once to California. Wild college road trips with pals. A cross-country road trip with a college girlfriend from L.A. to Maine. Road trips throughout Texas, Louisiana, the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and one particularly memorable road trip with Sam when he was about nine. It was a civil rights trip through the South, starting in Memphis and stopping in Jackson, Mississippi; Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama; and ending in Atlanta, during which we learned a lot about the country, ourselves, and fried catfish.
None of my road trips, however, was as transformative as that one with Jessica in New England.
We had flown into Boston, where we sat in the sun of fabled Fenway Park, quaffed a truly great ballpark beer, and watched the Red Sox defeat Toronto to clinch the American League East, the first step on the road to their equally fabled loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series. From Boston, we drove north in a rented car along the Maine coast, eating lobster rolls, walking on the rocky shore, and staying at a cottage house, where Jessica saw a ghost - felt a presence, actually - in the shower, which kindled in me a concern for her sanity and a particularly loony sort of jealousy, which made me even more concerned for my own sanity. "Who was this ghost, presence, whatever? Did you know him?" I asked.
Before the trip was over, we would stay at an almost comically menacing B&B in Vermont (the gargantuan ex-Boston Combat Zone medical worker-cum-B&B proprietor was, let's just say, a bit pushy and a bit inappropriate); play in the sun, the rain, and the snow - all in a single day - in the New Hampshire mountains; get chased by cops in Philly for knocking on the door of my childhood home and asking to see it; and eat at a tiny Jamaican restaurant in Washington, D.C., where a cheerful waitress told us not to worry about lacking the money to pay for dinner but to just mail a check sometime.
But at this moment, a question hung in the air.
"Better than Texas?"
"You were right," she says. "Better than Texas."
Yes! Right on the facts and the reality.
And so a new template was born.
That's the great thing about road trips. You never know where they are going to take you.