Last week, as I took the last of the Christmas decorations down, I found myself singing a mummer’s song I learned long ago from a Steeleye Span record:
“Christmas is past
Twelfth Night is the last,
And I bid you adieu
Pray joy to the new.”
I also found myself thinking of the one and only major Twelfth Night celebration I attended while in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and how it turned into one of those trips from hell.
At that time, the local SCA was part of a much larger group centered in Seattle. That year, a local had won the tourney to become the next prince of the region, so more people than usual were determined to attend the coronation ceremony at Twelfth Night in Seattle. Personally, I didn’t care who was prince, but rumor made the celebrations worth attending, so we decided to go.
When carpools were organized, our driver turned out to be a new member we didn’t know very well: A hulking teenager who towered over me, and carried at least fifty extra pounds around his middle.
The first omens should have tipped us off: He proposed riding down to Seattle in his jeep. There was barely enough room for everyone, and, while Trish got the front passenger seat, our friend Niall and I had to perch on our gear in the back. And did I mention that the jeep was unheated, and only a thin plastic top separated us from the elements? Still, we wanted to go, and this was our only transport.
Except our driver (whose name I no longer recall through the dim mists of time) didn’t seem to want to get started. He delayed for trivial reason after trivial reason, and we started three hours later than we had planned.
By the time we drove the ten miles or so to the border, regret was already hanging around us like a cloud of smoke. Our driver was a self-centered, non-stop talker, with nothing to say that a bunch of medievalists might want to hear. Like sandpaper, he was coarse and abrasive – and proved it by arguing at the border, so that the US customs guard almost had us haul our bags out and open them on the pavement.
Somehow, we missed that, but the journey was just beginning. Despite our protests that we were already late, our driver insisted on stopping to eat in Bellingham, a few minutes south of the border. That was bad enough, but he insisted on strapping an outsized replica of a horse pistol to his hip when we walked in. Alarmed patrons called the police, and our driver lost us more time as he demonstrated to a local law officer that the gun was incapable of firing. Our driver seemed puzzled that anyone might be made nervous by the sight of it.
For the rest of the trip, the driver monopolized the conversation. The rest of us soon went numb, partly from the cold, but also from the utter banality of his conversation. He had the hoarse intonations you sometimes hear in Canadian taverns, the one that echoes generations of hockey commentators while making the “eh” at the end of every sentence an assumption of agreement. Before long, Niall was visibly cringing when our driver spoke. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was feeling vaguely complicit because I was too polite to tell our driver to shut up.
We had hoped to drop our luggage at the house where we were staying, but we arrived much too late for that. We went directly to the event, which was held at some church hall. We had to drag our luggage in with us, and find a corner to stow it, the neighborhood not being of the best and the jeep providing no security. When the three of us had a chance to confer, we all agreed that we would find another driver for the trip home. Almost anyone would do.
After all our expectations, we were too busy trying to find another driver to enjoy the event – or, for me, to remember it after all the intervening years. But, at 3AM, we headed out to the house where we were going to crash. The drive was enlivened by him asking me to take the wheel so he could do something unnecessary – a request that almost caused us to go into the ditch, because I was so focused on the sketch map of directions that I took a moment to respond.
We knew our driver was going to be an embarrassment to our friends who owned the house – and he was, from the moment we arrived. I wanted to cringe, and to apologize for bringing the driver into the house, which was new and our friends’ pride.
Before we slept, we pleaded desperately with another guest to let us drive home with him. We would wake early, and leave our driver to find his own way back. The way he talked, we figured he wouldn’t miss having an audience.
Satisfied with the promise of escape, we slept soundly – awaking to find that our new ride had left without us. So had Niall.
With only two of us to bear the brunt of our driver’s conversation, the return trip was far worse than the outbound one. Besides, we knew what to expect.
The mileage signs were starting to show the distance to the border, and we were anticipating finally being free of our driver when he insisted on stopping at a smorgasbord. Why? Because he always stopped there. For ten miles before and after, he kept explaining what a good deal the place was.
Somehow, neither of us screamed, and we finally came to the parting of ways. We never saw our driver again, and never quite forgave our alternative driver or Niall for cutting and running, either. We’ve had our share of nightmarish trips – driving down to Portland in a gray Maverick with one rear light and repeatedly just missing being run over by truckers trying to make up time in the middle of the night comes to mind – but none came close to this Twelfth Night trip for mind-numbing boredom and banality. And now, every time I hear mention of Twelfth Night, I remember our ordeal and wonder whether to laugh or shake uncontrollably.