Posted by: trevormeers | November 25, 2011

Dates with a Muddy Zombie

Our fifth wedding anniversary was supposed to be a return trip to Hawaii. Then Kid #1 came. Our 10th was scheduled for Hawaii again, but Kid #2 was having health issues. For our 15th, we quit kidding ourselves, had my dad put half a hog on the smoker and invited a bunch of people over. But for #16, we pulled out the stops. To celebrate the enduring bond of two soulmates, I chased my wife through the mud with 7,500 people in various versions of marginally tasteful costumes.

A spot o' fun out on the course of the Living History Farms race.

This is a good moment to point out that if cross-country, freak-show racing sounds like a date for you, then you couldn’t pick nicer traveling companions than zombies. The ones we met at this year’s Living History Farms Race in a Des Moines suburb wore T-shirts stating, “You eat our dust; we eat your brains,” but that was all tongue in decomposing cheek. They brought their own brains. The tall zombie wore some kind of duct-tape contraption around his head, with a long, heavy-gauge wire cantilevered out from his forehead. At the end dangled a plastic brain. He chased it along the 7-mile course, carrying himself like the most polite undead flesh-eater I recall ever meeting. When he turned his head and smacked another runner with his dangling gray matter, he said, “Oh, sorry. I can’t look at anything without hitting someone with my brain.”

Clearly, I’m not much of a candidate for a jewelry commercial, where the guys are always cuddling their wives as a thunderstorm rolls in, then sneaking her a 20-carat anniversary gift just as the lightning startles her. Instead, we signed up for the world’s largest cross-country race, which has for its unofficial mascot a Chuck Norris look-alike who wears nothing—and I mean nothing—but a loin cloth and who missed this year’s race because he got the stuffing beat out of him in a bar fight a few weeks ago.

Keepin' the romance alive, thanks to 7 miles of muddy trail and a rebuilt general store.

The idea of “dates” starts to mutate after a few years of marriage. Early dates, for example, have an exciting night out as the goal; married people go out looking mainly for serenity. We’ve spent a shocking number of dates in bookstores, Teri in the cookbook section and me in military history, blissfully turning pages without the Curious George theme song blaring behind us. For Teri’s birthday this year, we bought take-out Chinese, drove to a restored prairie and sat staring at wheeling blackbirds through the truck’s windshield. And it was fantastic.

But you shouldn’t get the impression that I’ve seamlessly figured out the proper tone for married-folk dating. There’s been a significant learning curve. And to potentially save others some painful evenings, here are a few pointers I’ve picked up for spousal dating:

–       Do make dinner reservations rather than just showing up and hoping to get a table. Failing to reserve a table translates to her as, “You didn’t care enough about tonight to even think ahead.”

–       Don’t forget your wallet in the truck. Yes, the two of you share finances. And, no, it really doesn’t matter whether she hands the waiter a credit card or you do. But if you make her hand over the card, it is translated as, “You didn’t care enough about tonight to even take care of the little things, like paying for dinner.”

–       Don’t try to make efficient use of your one-on-one time by working through some health insurance issues you’ve both been putting off discussing for weeks. This is typically translated as, “Is this the first time you’ve taken a girl out?”

–       Let her win.

That last one sounds a lot like the advice Han Solo gave C-3PO regarding playing board games with Wookies. But some wisdom carries across the galaxies. Here’s how it comes into play for us: My wife took up running a few years ago partially as a challenging way to stay in shape, but also because she wanted a hobby we could share. And it’s paid off in that area, since we now fight over new issues of Runner’s World and have run numerous races together.

Wheaties Man makes an annual appearance at the race, disheartening many a runner when they're passed by a box of cereal.

Well, “together” in the same sense that I’ve run races “together” with the Kenyans who won them. There’s some disparity between our running paces, through no fault of Teri’s other than having legs a foot shorter than mine. So our typical race-day routine is to say goodbye somewhere around the start, then eventually track each other down around the free Gatorade at the finish some time later.

But for our anniversary run at Living History, I vowed that we would run together. So we spent the morning side-by-side. Scrambling across slopes in pastures. Clawing up creekbanks so muddy and steep that the organizers hang ropes down the cliff. High-stepping through muddy water because Runner’s World says your feet stay drier that way.

As we approached the finish in the re-created frontier town, we’d already spent more uninterrupted time together than we had in months. And when we turned the corner at the newspaper office and saw the digital finish-line clock ahead, we both took off in a sprint. We passed Darth Vader. We blew past Batman. We wove around the zombie, who had now flipped his brain back behind his head in order to make his shuffling more aerodynamic.

With the finish line about 2 yards away, Teri leaned in with a shoulder and crossed at an angle just in front of me. On Monday, a friend sent me an e-mail noting that I finished with the same time as my wife, right to the second. But Teri pointed out, “You know, I did cross the line before you.”

Fair warning if we ever decide to hold one of those marriage-vow renewals: If you join us, you may wind up in a wedding party something like this group from the 2010 race.

In fact, she did. And that night, we went out to dinner with reservations I made five days earlier. After 16 years, you start to figure these things out, kind of like a zombie who finally catches up to his brain.



  1. You’re MY favorite zombie!

    • Is that because of his looks or smell?

  2. You are one of the last great romantics…a year without Loin Cloth guy? I’m not sure I can handle that!

  3. A belated Happy Anniversary to both of you!
    You are one wise guy in the romance department!!

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