Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Riding Under the Radar

I was blessed with a good sense of direction thanks to my mother, one of the original backseat drivers. Between us we come from a background that includes navigating by landmarks such as mail boxes, trees with wonky branches, a leaning farm house and ol' man so-and-so's abandoned tractor to get across town or across the country.
Back in the day a long-distance drive was the equivalent of going to the moon. You were out of touch with loved ones for the anxious, mysterious hours of however long it took to get from here to there. No cell phones, never enough coins to satisfy the pay phones for long-distance calls and only if someone is hospitalized would anyone ever reverse the charges. At the same time, road maps remained current for years at a time given the lack of any major road development. With a background like that, seriously, who needs a GPS?
The road less traveled is exactly about wandering for the sake of finding out what's there without worrying about being lost. Getting lost is part of the fun! And as long as the road signs don't change to a completely foreign language there's a good chance that a major highway or interstate isn't too far away. Failing that simple good manners have helped me get directions whenever I finally got around to deeming them necessary.
In a strange city if I'm not with a local who knows the way then maybe, maybe, a GPS would be helpful. On the open road I simply refuse. That's where the good stories come from! With a GPS I also can't shake the feeling that knowing where I am at all times means the outside world can also find me. Ugh!
At one point in my professional life I was charged with selling the things by the barrel; they made great stocking stuffers and were saviors from on high for weary husbands tired of explaining to preoccupied wives how to get across town in a city they've lived in nigh on to 30 years or more (true story). Not knowing what he really needed one day, one such husband came in and simply asked for the most expensive GPS on the shelf, a Magellan at the time retailing for over $600. I talked him down to about $150 for a Garmin since his wife never left the city limits of Washington DC unless he himself was behind the wheel.
"Roads in DC haven't changed since LaFayette laid them out," I told the man, with the sole exception of I-395. A friend in Phoenix boasts having two of the things and regularly exchanges "coordinates" with friends as if on some Star Trek episode so they can find each other for drinks, golf or 4-wheeling. Even on his commute to work the thing is running "in case there's traffic or an accident."
Please! I just drove 1900 miles round trip from Texas to Illinois and back by way of Tennessee. They've ADDED a few interstates but the originals are all still there, right where Eisenhower commissioned them over 60 years ago. I made the entire trip from memory and dead reckoning with at least a dozen other such trips under me just like that.
Driving to me soothes the soul and quiets the mind while navigating from memory keeps what intellect I've got stimulated and fresh. And for once I also listened to Mother:
"All you need is Rand McNally and a good clean gas station!"
Gotta go.

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