Saturday, June 6, 2015

Trusting those old maps - and instinct

As a two-car family of three, we will have to make some adjustments this summer. Second Born was on her way to meet me in Portland one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, so we could drop off a car for Spouse who was working late. I was just leaving my office to head in the direction of the hospital where he works, knowing she had been on the road for almost a half hour and should be there any time, when my cell rang.

“I’m going to be really late,” she informed me in a frustrated tone from a parking lot somewhere very north of Portland. She had managed to miss the exit to Route 295 toward the hospital. By the time she pulled over she was past Portland and Westbrook. Realizing nothing looked familiar, she decided to exit the highway. By the time she called me she was heading toward the Falmouth spur.

After hoping to get some type of sense of direction from me, she chose to GPS her way back.

Remember the days when we read maps ahead of time, or more often on the way to our destination instead of listening to an almost motherly, yet demanding voice telling you to make a legal u-turn?

When I first got my license (back when cars were newly invented, of course) I had a rule of thumb. If I wasn’t completely familiar with an area and I saw three or more cars make a turn, I would follow them. In my mind, when that many drivers made the same decision, they must be going somewhere important, like a major intersection or a Dunkin Donuts. I discovered many helpful shortcuts with this method, and I will fess up to a few dead ends that weren’t quite as beneficial.

At the wise old age of 16 and newly licensed, a high school friend and I would occasionally take day trips on weekends, unbeknownst to either set of parents. Our habit was to get on the highway and drive for an hour or so, then stop for lunch or a snack. When we were done and had taken a sufficient break we would simply ask someone – a waitress or a store clerk - how to get back to the highway.

Most of the time we didn’t stray far from the main roads so it was an easy turnaround.  It still felt like a daring adventure to us. At 59 cents a gallon for gasoline, I’m sure it would have been considered a major waste of fuel for us to take such a trip. But we always managed to scrape up five or six dollars to fill the tank before we returned, so we were covered.

As of the writing of this column Second Born managed to drive a friend to Lewiston and find her way back home, guided by the GPS. She mentioned that the voice seemed to take her the long way back to the highway, but she continued to follow and eventually came upon signs for the highway. I had to give the GPS voice the benefit of the doubt, considering I’ve never even been to Lewiston. My directions might have had her aiming for Nova Scotia.

I don’t know if I would recommend following three or more cars to find new routes, or driving for an hour or more and asking someone how to get home. I also won’t kid myself into thinking my own driving daughters have never had their own little adventures that I’m clueless about. Naturally, they are related to me (their father has his own daredevil stories, most never to be shared), and I don’t mind a little bit of history repeating itself.

But if history is going to repeat itself, let’s start with going back to 59 cents a gallon for gas. 

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