This is a story about redemption. Disclaimer: For illustrative purposes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marcia Brady and Clark Griswold will make cameo appearances.
If you caught my last column, I discussed the general cons and cons of the family road trip. In it, I mentioned how, as navigator, I have this annoying habit of over-mapping. Though I have a good sense of direction, to merely wing it to a new destination makes me uncomfortable.
Before going to other cities, I like to print out both Map Quest and Google directions. I reverse ‘em as well. And though I rarely trust or use satellite devices, GPS gadgets remain forever in my orbit — for backup. But all that’s not enough for me, no sir. I show my love of quadruple redundancy by bringing an oversized atlas. Just in case.
My technique is simple. 1. Study maps beforehand. 2. Know the entire route to and all quadrants within the host metropolis. 3. Do a permanent mind imprint of the city’s highway grid. Best way to describe this process? Picture the way Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” character sees tracking data pop up in his field of vision, all hologram-like. That’s me. Ya.
On to the redemption story. As we left for St. Louis, my husband thought it would be overkill to include my oversized atlas in our travel arsenal. After all, we were just going straight across Missouri on I-70. I ignored his opinion. I marched to the car, carrying the map stacks close to my heart the way Marcia Brady used to grasp her high school textbooks. (To hammer my stubborn allegiance to Rand McNally, as I walked past my husband, I swished my hair a la Marcia.)
It was a quick trip. We had one short evening to explore St. Louis. To my surprise, the teens decided they wanted to see the Gateway Arch, which is located downtown. This was off script, especially with the sun setting, but I went along. Plus, being the Terminator, I had a good feel for what was where and how to get back to the hotel 15 minutes due west.
By the time we left the arch, it was dark. I knew the highway we had to take, of course, but somehow I became nervous. I had a vague memory of the National Lampoon Vacation movie where the Griswolds wound up seriously lost in, yep, St. Louis. Not only that, when the exit ramp had dumped us downtown earlier, I noticed decaying buildings with broken windows. St. Louis is mostly lovely and awesome, but it also has a few nationally ranked crime stats.
So, on a rare whim, I said, “Let’s try the GPS to get back to the hotel!” Within seconds, a robotic voice gave us some lefts, some rights, some straight-aheads and led us directly to the Interstate 64 west entrance ramp.
Glitch: The ramp was barricaded. Bigger glitch: The satellite and “bot” voice had no earthly idea. We tried overshooting the area, hoping it would link us to the next entrance ramp, but no. It kept directing us back to the corner of Dystopia Boulevard and Anarchy Avenue.
We rolled by more broken windows, a cop possibly arresting someone, deserted streets, and all the non-Disney stuff you could imagine. My husband turned into Clark Griswold with an anger management problem. Imagine a dad in a polo shirt arguing with a disembodied dashboard robot.
At that point, a hologram map popped in my head. Cyborg Mom to the rescue. I remembered how from downtown, I-70 veered northwest, but west enough, and there was another highway, 170, that sliced back south near our hotel. At the last minute, I convinced my husband to hop onto I-70. (Am I boring you?)
I pulled out the ATLAS to verify, and boom, I was right. We found our way. Reeeeeeedemption.
The lesson? Never completely depend on modern gadgetry. Satellites are indeed amazing, but nothing beats a basic sense of direction and a nerdy atlas.
Denise Snodell, a 913 freelance columnist, writes every other week.