My wife, Mary, warned me that we were going to get stuck looking at travel photos, but I had already accepted the invitation to dinner with Liz and Jeff Trimble. We hadn’t seen them in ages though, and I was really looking forward to a nice quiet evening reconnecting with our old friends. And then just as we were sitting down to eat I asked, “So, what’s new with you all?” Out of the corner of my eye I swear I saw Mary freeze for a second and I soon realized why. I had stepped right into it.
“Oh, honey,” Liz said to Jeff, “go get the laptop so we can show them the photos from our trip!”
“Super!” Mary wore a smile that I knew meant she wasn’t happy at all.
Jeff jumped up and returned in short order with the computer. While he searched for the folder with the photos Liz filled us in. “We planned and booked the whole trip ourselves. Saved a ton of money compared to any of the packages that travel agents try to stick you with. You know they get kickbacks from the tour guides.”
“Okay, here we go.” Jeff turned the laptop around so the screen faced us. I put my hand on Mary’s knee. She squeezed my fingers. Hard.
“This is in the airport before we left,” Jeff narrated. “You have to check in like two hours ahead of time for an international flight and then sit around with nothing to do. So we got a beer after going through security.”
On screen the couple were badly backlit by huge windows looking out on the tarmac. But they looked happy and excited with half-full glasses of beer in front of them.
“They charge a frickin’ arm and a leg for a stupid beer,” Liz chimed in, “but what are you gonna do? It’s not like you’re gonna leave and come back after you go to all the trouble of getting through security.”
“Damn straight,” agreed Jeff. He pressed a key and the next photo slid across the screen. “Here we are in London. We were on our way to Buckingham Palace when we stopped in at this pub. You’re gonna love the name of this place, The Slug and Lettuce Pub.” Jeff grinned.
“It sounds so gross,” added Liz, “but it was an okay place really. We’re drinking gin and tonic — Beefeaters, of course, on account of the Royal Guards over there.”
“You know I’d just as soon have tried a stout, but we met some locals and kept buying rounds for each other. Oh, well, that leaves me something to try if we ever go again.”
The photo was dark, but the pub appeared surprisingly upscale given the name. And there sat the happy couple at a large round table, squeezed in among an apparently enthusiastic group of locals, gin glasses raised in a toast.
“This is Berlin.” Jeff advanced to the next photo, another self portrait, tilted at a rakish angle. “We found this place called the Asphalt Club, really a kind of high-tech place for such a rough sounding name. Since we were in Germany we had to try the schnapps, but it’s nothing like the stuff here in America. It’s thinner and not as sweet and they don’t go in for all the crazy flavors, but it’s got a kick! That stuff knocked us on our asses. What was the joke you made up, honey?”
“We didn’t make it to Checkpoint Charlie and it was the Asphalt.” Liz grinned and pointed at Jeff. We all laughed.
“Here we are in Rome,” Jeff was moving on. “I can never pronounce the name of the place, but it means ‘Zero-Seventy-Five’ in English. We had to try the grappa.”
Liz grimaced. “Oh, that stuff made me so sick! We both spent all day in bed… and not in a fun way.”
The couple peered out from the digitized Italian bar, brandy glasses in hand, looking decidedly less happy than in the previous shots.
“So we almost missed our flight to Madrid,” said Jeff, “but as you can see, we made it. I really wanted to see a bullfight.”
“There’s no way I was going to sit through one of those!”
This photo was so dark I could barely discern my friends from the background.
“So we had a pitcher or three of Sangria and argued about it instead. I told her I didn’t want to trade watching a bullfight for having a fight with a cow. She was not amused.”
From the scowl on Liz’s face it was clear she was still not amused by the remark.
“So then it was on to Paris. Since it was the last stop we had to celebrate with champagne. You know you can only call it that if it comes from the Champagne region of France? Otherwise you just call it sparkling wine.”
The next photo appeared like a light being switched on. They sat outdoors at a cafe, arms linked, champagne flutes in hand.
“We skipped the Eiffel Tower,” Jeff went on, “and I erected a tower of my own and made up for the fight we had in Spain.”
Liz’s expression had softened.
“Then it was back home again. We were so jet-lagged when we laid over in New York that we needed a couple Jager Bombs to keep going.”
The final photo showed the tired- but happy-looking couple in a nondescript American bar.
“Wow, that was quite a trip,” I said. “And you got to see… so much of the world.”
“Yup! Once in a lifetime. You two should go sometime.”
I looked at Mary. I was just glad she was going home with me.
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