2021-09-14-REISSCOLPIC

The author and his wife pose at the top of Cadillac Mountain Trail in Acadia National Park, overlooking Bar Harbor, Maine.

Have you every heard of the drive and ride test? It’s not really a test, but a bit of advice I picked up when I was a young professional hired to rebuild a faltering organization.

My objective was simple: hire the best people I could find to build a great team. I knew that I needed to employ people who were compatible, whom I could trust and whose company I would enjoy. Hence, drive and ride.

The test is easy. After all due diligence is complete and you are about to make the hire, ask yourself if you had to drive cross-country with this person, and the radio didn’t work, and there was no Wi-Fi or CD player, could you make the trip?

It’s a question I asked myself three days into retirement as I mentally prepared for an extended road trip. Full disclosure — I was nervous. I wasn’t building a team or hiring anyone, but I’d be alone in a car, with one person only, for hours on end. And although I wasn’t traveling cross-country, I was heading on a 400-mile journey (each way) from the Berkshires to Northern Maine. My travelling companion was not a person who someday might work for me. In fact, my companion was no stranger at all. It was my wife of 36 years.

On the day I retired, she made an interesting observation. She said, “I have never known you not to have a job.” I hadn’t really thought about that. It struck me that perhaps she was nervous, too — not just about our road trip, but the rest of our lives. I might not be as interesting as I once was. Only 24 hours earlier, I was the boss. I was collecting a paycheck. I had meetings. I had people. I had purpose. Suddenly, I realized I might be the one to fail the test.

On the sixth day of retirement, we hit the road. The trip was divided into segments and on day one I was informed by the soothing voice of my GPS that the estimated time until our first stop in Kennebunkport was three hours and 19 minutes. The test had begun.

At work, I was always prepared. Yet, as we pulled out of the driveway for our eight-day journey, I felt oddly unprepared. My wife had cleverly turned the tables.

Wheels were rolling. Houses passed us by. Clouds filled the skies. I looked up at a cloud formation and said, “That one looks like a dog. We should get a dog.”

My wife responded quickly and said, “We’re NOT getting a dog.”

I dropped the subject, knowing this was a battle not meant for confined quarters. Clearly, the test was more difficult than I had thought.

For the next hour, we drove in silence. She read a book. I watched the shifting clouds.

At some point, we crossed into New Hampshire. With great zest, I said, “Hey, we’re in New Hampshire. We’ve never been to New Hampshire.” My wife looked up from her book and said, “It looks a lot like Massachusetts,” and returned to her reading. I desperately wanted to put on the radio. How could I be doing so poorly?

We quickly crossed a corner of New Hampshire before entering Maine. My wife, obviously sensing the tension, tossed me a softball. She said, “It looks like it’s going to rain.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, thrilled to have found common ground. As a person who rides his bicycle nearly every day, I am obsessed with the weather. Is it too cold? Is too hot? Will it rain? Will it snow?

With an overabundance of enthusiasm, I said, “Looks like cumulonimbus clouds. We better be careful.”

Sure enough, a boom and crackle split the sky and the rain poured down. And that very moment I did the unthinkable. I turned the radio on.

In a perfect world Frankie Valli would have been singing, “You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off of you” (our wedding song). But few things are perfect after 36 years of marriage. Instead, we heard Robert Plant wailing “Oh, baby, I been blind/Oh, yeah, Mama, there ain’t no denying.” These were not the tension-relief lyrics I sought. Quickly, I switched stations and was rewarded for my initiative with Carly Simon and James Taylor singing “Mockingbird.” Perfect! I smiled. My wife smiled. We sang along. How could we not? There’s a verse in the song that says, “I might rise above/I might go below/I’ll ride with the tide and go with the flow.” And then another song, and another, and we sang them, too. Finally, we were flowing.

I like to think I know myself, but clearly, I forgot I was a lousy test-taker. I spent a lot more time listening to music than studying. I’ve always learned best from experience, and from this experience I learned that I still hate tests, even if they are self-imposed. What I love is music, companionship and adventure, all of which I had over eight days and 800 hundred miles. And I guess if I had to hire my wife for another 36 years, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Richard Reiss is the author of “Desperate Love: A Father’s Memoir.” He lives in Canaan, N.Y., with his wife Paula.