Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What we would have missed

The scene: Late at night, somewhere in western New York state. We're midway through our return home from a quick trip to New York City where we and my mom attended my cousin's wedding. Everyone but the driver - that would be me - dozes while the GPS softly lights the dash and points us toward home.

As we approach a seemingly dark exit, I furrow my brow when our navigator, who we've nicknamed Lucille, or Lucy, tells me to get off the highway. The device is set to default to the fastest possible route, so I'm surprised that she's pointing me toward, well, oblivion. But I've never driven here before, and I know better than to quibble with the Soulless Code of Garmin. So I hit the turn signal and take the exit.

We end up on a two-lane highway - US Route 20A - that snakes us through canopies of trees and up and down through more small towns and past more farms and farmhouses than I can count. This isn't a short detour: By my admittedly lame estimate, Lucy has decided to yank us off the Interstate for the last 90 minutes before we hit the border. The kids, sensing that the car is no longer cruising on the straight and level, wake up and start asking questions. Are we there yet? (No.) Are we off the highway? (Yes.) Why? (Because Daddy's lost and we've entrusted ourselves to a squawking box no bigger than your Nintendo DSi.)

So you can imagine that I'm a little more stressed than usual, and at first I find it difficult to avoid showing it. But I smile as I answer their questions because that's just what dads do - if mine was ever nervous during a long trip, he never let on. We always felt safe, and that's exactly what I want for them, too.

After a few minutes, though, my headlights swing past a deer standing quietly on the side of the road. No one's playing Nintendo now, and everyone's suddenly keenly aware of the things going on outside our car that we'd never have seen on the boring old Interstate. I start to relax and enjoy the unplanned experience.

We pick our way down a steep set of switchbacks before coasting into a brilliantly lit, one-intersection town. A lone pedestrian - a long-haired teenaged boy whose black t-shirt doesn't look warm enough for the chilly night - walks across the deserted street, swapping one whitewashed facade of dusty windows and shadowed entranceways for another.

As we climb out of the town and back into the pitch black night, Debbie calls out that she sees a windmill. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch it: a giant shadow of modern eco-friendliness that dominates the quaint farmhouses that line the side of the road. I have no idea how I'm able to make it out on the darkened land - and no time, either, as the road beckons my eyes back. Suddenly my wife sees another one, and another, until the entire field is filled with them. They're turning slowly in the black night, sending energy to a place that's got to be lighter than this. My kids remain glued to the window, amazed.

Eventually, we see a familiar glow in the distance as Lucy points us back toward civilization. We get on the highway and drive through the middle of Buffalo. The rest of the way home, I toss over in my mind what possessed our GPS to take us on such a ride. And I smile at the thought as I consider what we would have missed had the trip gone completely according to plan. Sometimes, the road less traveled is the one we simply need to take.

I'll leave the why of it all for another time.

Your turn: When a journey takes you somewhere unexpected. Please discuss.

9 comments:

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

for now....just taking your telling of that journey wih me

thank you

Pamela said...

had that happen with me and my brother last winter. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.... but ended up at the right destination

similar type windy road that made us think we were in Brigadoon, or something.

utenzi said...

I went to college in western NY but I don't think I was in that area, Carmi.

And since we didn't have GPS back then, I'm glad I never got lost like that. Unlike you, I'd just as soon not make those detours. Sometimes you just can't trust the "Lucys" of this brave new world.

Mojo said...

My first thought was: "'Toward civilization' and 'middle of Buffalo'... two phrases I never thought I'd hear in the same sentence."

My second thought was "What? No pictures??"

I gave up on Magellan when I became convinced that it really was trying to get me to circumnavigate the globe to get from Raleigh to Chapel Hill. The problem is that when I'm using one it's because I need to make sure I don't get lost, because I have a schedule to keep. And I've found that these two conditions are pretty well mutually exclusive.

There wasn't so very much to see, but I do have a funny navigational episode to relate. It was the very beginning of the much discussed Great College Road Trip of 2005 and Stop #1 on the itinerary was Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. We had gotten all the navigational aids from AAA (this was pre-Magellan) including maps, "Trip Ticks" and the like and with my college bound son in the shotgun seat handling the navigation we pointed the Explorer westward and set sail. About 40 miles east of Knoxville, TN, my son looks up from the map, turns to me with a slightly panicked look and says in all seriousness:
"Dude. I don't think we're supposed to be in Tennessee."
"Excuse me? What do you mean?"
"Did you see any signs for I-77 anywhere?"
"Yeess. In Winston Salem three hours ago."
"Yeah. Uh. We were supposed to take that."

As it turned out there was no harm. We pulled off I-40, and after checking the larger map realized that we could push on to Knoxville and take I-75 straight up to Bloomington. And in hindsight, it was probably a better choice. the AAA estimate was 12 hours drive time and we made it door to door -- including pit stops (and navigation breaks) in 11 hours total time.

The route through West Virginia and Ohio might have been somewhat more picturesque, with all the purple mountains' majesty and such, but the straight line blast through the flatlands was certainly faster.

Klaatu said...

The Garmin GPS is a tool of the underworld. It is meant to bring fresh food to the undead.
That young man in the black T-shirt was supposed to jump in front of your car so you would stop.
You know what happens next. Zombie smorgasbord!!!!
Brains, brains and innards. Yum-Yum.
But you escaped. This round is yours Mr. Levy, but we shall meet again.
( cue evil laugh)
Bwwaaa-Haa-Ha, Bwwaaaa-Haaa-Ha

dennisthemennis.co.uk said...

Your story made me feel like I was actually in the car with you. You did just make me laugh nervously tho as I recall driving on holiday and we decided to go up the side of a mountain in gran canaria a few years ago when my children were quite small, were in a citreon berlingo a hire car not even fit for the road let alone off road.

The track got smaller and smaller and there was no protection to the right of us that led down a MOUNTAINNNNNNN!!! we couldnt even turn around and go back, the only way was up.

When we finally reached the top we got out and everyone sighed as they clung to me thanking me for getting us up safely, I asked my wife why she didn't panic and she said because I was obviously happy with it little did she know that I had almost wet myself with fear.

Kay said...

haha...my turn? well, that's just life :) Lovely story of yours, you wrote it very nicely. I look forward to reading more

christina said...

Your story is very interesting and i think of all journey out of the road which is telling us something about our lives.
It is not only when we are on the road life can take unexpected ways. It is when life change it`s on way.

I have been sick for more then 10 years of the "burnout" symdrom. But the way this ilness have taken me is the best part of my life. New ways all the time. Not easy ways. It has been difficult inner ways within myself. More interesting ways, for me. I thanks life for that.

(Hope you can read my english.)

Have a nice day/Christina

DougPhoto2009 said...

US Route 20A is a less traveled road. But your journey did transport you over the Timothy J. Russert Highway.