“I bet you've been getting this a lot lately,” Josephine said, and at that moment Miranda Washington immediately knew what was coming and braced herself. She kept her eyes locked on the road and pretended she was alone in the car. But Josephine’s voice remained: “There’s no way you’re related to Richard Washington, right?”

Miranda did not answer right away. She was amazed that despite the fact she had received this question or variations thereof probably dozens of times within the past month, she had still not found a rote, nonchalant answer that satisfied her or the person asking. What would she say this time? After a couple seconds of silence, she settled on this: a quick shrug, accompanied by “I don’t know who that man is.”

About as truthful an answer as any. But Josephine started laughing a laugh that made Miranda give the steering wheel a death grip. After she had laughed for too long, Josephine said, “Well, you might not be related, but you can’t expect me to believe that for a second.”

Miranda tightened her lips and said, “It’s true.” Since she could no longer pretend she was alone, Miranda now would have given anything at that moment for there to have been a stranger in the car, a neutral third party whose mere presence would limit the boundaries of conversation. She switched on the radio. In a slick voice, a meteorologist told them that the amount of snow Ithaca was predicted to receive that night had increased from 6” to anywhere from 15”- 18.” The temperature would drop to below zero with the wind chill. Bad news for them, no doubt, but the sterile, clinical way in which the meteorologist announced his facts only soothed Miranda. Josephine, a California native, did not feel the same way.

“I could never live out here,” she said, and turned the volume down. “I will say, though, there’s an odd feeling you get from being in a place you don’t like for a day or two. I think people have got ‘vacationing’ all wrong. We should go to locations we hate. You’re always the happiest when you leave somewhere you don’t want to be. Think about it: would you rather be bored in some sub-tropical resort for a week, or experience the sheer relief of getting on a plane to go home after a stint in the middle of the Ozarks?”

Miranda considered this for a moment and then said, “So you’re a poverty tourist?” Josephine looked horrified. “Oh, God, no, not like that. I didn’t mean it like that. I guess all I’m trying to say is that people don’t appreciate their homes enough. We need to appreciate home more.”

“I think there are better ways to do that than slumming it,” Miranda said.

“I’m sorry,” Josephine said. “I didn’t mean it.” She watched Miranda for a moment, waiting for a look that signaled forgiveness, but Miranda’s expression remained blank. Instead, Miranda only moved her fingers to the volume knob. A woman’s voice, qualitatively identical to the meteorologist’s, slowly rose from the speakers, announcing the locations of traffic accidents along NY-79. The conference at Cornell would begin that afternoon, and there was still at least an hour of driving before they would arrive at the house. Josephine looked out her window and watched the snow-covered Finger Lakes landscape roll out before her. The spindly trunks of dead poplars protruded from massive tracts of pure white, mostly empty save for the odd farmhouse.

She began to cry, silently. She couldn’t embarrass herself. She wanted to say she was sorry because she meant it, and she was of the notion that if you really believe something, you ultimately have no choice but to say it.

“Miranda,” she said. “I’m sorry, I mean that. I didn’t mean to pry. I just thought that on the off chance you knew him you might—“ Miranda moved instinctively. In one swift motion she turned the volume knob to its rightmost position, and the only thing either of them could hear was the news that a three-car pileup back in Oneonta had left one dead and four in critical condition.

That's it for now. Over the next few days, I'll try to make some time to talk about the very scary phenomenon that is "influencer novelists."