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As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On the Road... Again!

Rule #46 – Learn something from every experience.

     For years, I’ve been the family navigator on trips. I’d sit in the passenger seat, with maps out and directions out, charting where we were on the road, and how far it was to the next rest stop. When you travel with kids – and future old people – finding rest stops is priority one. I really enjoyed following the maps, being the visual person I am. 

     Last October changed things dramatically, and not by my choice. Now I’m flying solo, so to speak. My late husband used to do all the driving. Now, it’s all up to me. And I’m finding that driving and reading maps are not activities that a person can participate in at the same time – at least, safely. It’s either drive or read the maps and directions.

     In reality, I did do some of the driving on our road trips. Hub would sit in the passenger seat, and hold on for dear life. He never relaxed when I drove. He’d held on to the “Jesus bars” so tight, it would be white knuckle time. Yes, he’d criticize. Yes, I’d yell back. Yes, I’d threaten to put him out on the side of the road, if he didn’t stop complaining. Yes, I’d gently explain that there was no “right” way to drive a route and he could get over his ideas that his way is the only way. I was in charge… and he wasn’t too happy when I was in charge.

     By the way, those “Jesus bars” I’m talking about… that’s the name our family gave to the safety grab bars on the door and/or roof of the car. When we were teaching our kids to drive, they would push the limits of parental civility at times. That’s when I would grab the bar and start to pray, “Oh Jesus! Save me!” So, hence, the name “Jesus bars”.

     I decided that I would continue our tradition of taking road trips. We still had 2 trips planned before the end of the year, and I was determined to take both of those trips. One of them was to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Not being too familiar with the roads that lead to my destination, I dug out the directions and maps. Then I realized that I’d have to make a choice. Do I memorize the directions and just drive? Do I keep maps and directions open so I can check periodically? Do I break down and get a GPS unit?

     I remember using a GPS on a trip Hub and I took years ago. We were heading to Maine and trying to avoid the interstates… especially traveling through New York City. We rented a car with a GPS in it. Hub programmed it and it worked really well for a while. We actually enjoyed hearing the voice say “continue on I-287”. But then Hub’s directions took us a bit “off the beaten path”. We started on the Taconic Parkway, which is a great drive with scenic views. We took local roads up to Killington Vermont. Every time we ventured from the programmed route, we heard “Make a U-turn at the next safest location.” When the U-turn didn’t happen we heard “Recalculating” come from the micro-chipped voice. We got to a point where we were mimicking the voice, saying “recalculating” with her. We’d answer her “Yes, Dear” and then ignore her. Then Hub, decided to just drive the GPS unit crazy. By the time we got to Meredith, New Hampshire, we were both laughing ourselves silly with every turn we made. GPS became on-board entertainment for the long trip through the wilderness of central Maine.

     Both Hub and I talked about getting an updated GPS system for our road trips. But we both agreed, in spite of the laughter, we’d go it old school, with maps and directions. Okay, so we rerouted using Google Maps at the end of each day. But Google Maps was our only salute to technology. We just like to head out on to the open road and see what happened.

     But now things are different. It was just me, myself, and I heading to Massachusetts this past November. I gave in and got a Garmin. I now have this female voice telling me how to get where I want to go.
View from a Garmin GPS unit

I opened the box, freed Ms. Garmin from her bubble-wrapped prison, charged her up, and we made peace. I put in the routes I planned to take. I added the destination address to my “favorites”. Then I threw my stuff in the car and headed north. Then I found out how flexible her mind really was. She was programmed for the “fastest route”. Folks, the trip from Maryland to Massachusetts brings the “fastest route” directly through New York City, via the Cross Bronx Expressway. I’ve been stuck on the Cross Bronx before, even when the Yankees weren’t playing at home.

Cross Bronx Expressway

It doesn’t matter the time of day. That is so NOT the “fastest route”. But when I “told” her, by way of taking I-287 instead, she kept arguing with me to turn around. She finally got the message and “recalculated”.
Cross Bronx Expressway, near the George Washington Bridge

     We continued to argue as I turned on to I-684, a route that takes you directly to I-84 at the Connecticut line. From there it was smooth sailing all the way to the Mass Pike (I-90)… or so I thought. That day, there happened to be a massive accident between two exits on I-84, with fatalities. The road was closed between those two exits. It was after dark and I didn’t trust getting off the road and taking the many unlit back roads through Connecticut and Massachusetts. So I stayed put and chugged along, laughing at the guy behind me. He opened his windows up, cranked up his music and sang along at the top of his lungs. Hey, we weren’t moving anywhere, so I got treated to a floor show.
Add darkness, and this was the traffic jam on I-84

     Ms. Garmin delivered me right to the doorstep of my destination with no further argument. She got me home too, but I managed to shut her up for a while. You see, I was driving the part of South Jersey that I know like the back of my hand. I could drive I-295 in my sleep… in fact, I think I did drive it in my sleep once. But I took my tried and true route home, and stuck to my guns. Ms. Garmin got so tired of telling me “recalculated” routes that she quietly “recalculated” for a half hour. Then she figured out my route and spoke up again. Human victory over the microchip!
   She’s been a great help on subsequent trips, even if she’s along just so I have someone to argue with as I drive. It’s fun to have her sit on the dashboard showing me the next turn, and mispronouncing the names of the streets. She murders some of the Indian-named highways in Virginia.

Notice the spider web of streets, criss-crossing each other at odd angles
     Ms. G proved her worth on my recent trip to the wedding of a friend in downtown D.C. Now, if you’ve ever seen a birds-eye-view map of the capital city, you wonder how they laid out the roads, what they were thinking (or worse), and how did they crowd so much into so little space. I plugged the address of the ceremony into Ms. Garmin and she got me directly to the location. I started having more faith in her as she got me through a few crazy D.C. intersections. Then I relaxed and let her lead the way. I got to the ceremony with some time to spare. Then it was off to the reception. Ms. Garmin got me through 3 circles, including the dreaded DuPont Circle, with no problems. I’m sure the drivers behind me were not using all their fingers as they waved at me, but no matter. I drove in unfamiliar parts of the city with no problem. And she deposited me on my doorstep when the trip was over. Way to go, Ms. G!

     I learned a lot through these experiences. First, I learned that I can travel distances alone. I’ve been driving back and forth to Philadelphia and South Jersey by myself for years. But now I have the confidence to branch out, head out into the wilderness. Next, I learned that I need a travel partner for long trips, even if it is a computer. It really helps to have someone to talk to… or yell at. I feel more comfortable, too, when I do advance planning using a maps program from the internet, so I learned to keep that working for me. I learned, too, that I need to get my behind back to D.C. as a tourist – and soon! I’ve been missing a lot down there and I need to catch up. Lastly, I learned that there is no true substitute for a good, old-fashioned map. Many of mine are out of date, so I stopped at AAA to replace them. Thank you, AAA.

     Notes to self for future trips – update Ms. G and keep her updated. Double check the settings before each trip. Pack the maps you will need, just in case Ms. G gets an attitude and spends more time than necessary “recalculating”.

     Ah, yes… the dynamic duo of Ms. Garmin and fresh maps. I won’t leave home without them.

     And Self, get your touring self back to D.C!

     “Yes, Dear!”

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