This Is What Really Happened.Posted: February 13, 2010
It involves a road trip and a GPS. I’d wanted my own Global Positioning System badly and planned to buy myself one for Christmas, but then I heard about a couple somewhere in a mountainous region who used one to travel and got stranded on a logging road for a few days. It seems these little instruments pick up every trail and cow path.
Last night we went to Neil’s for dinner — barbecued pulled pork, potato salad, slaw, cornmeal muffins, and baked beans. Susie baked brownies … with canned icing, which is out of character for her. The challenging part of going to Neil’s is getting to Neil’s.
Neil lives way out in the country from the town of Columbia. We didn’t have his address, we didn’t get directions, we’d been there before, we thought we were homing pigeons and could just strike out and arrive an hour later at Neil’s front door. We gathered at Colleen’s house in south Franklin — all five of us — to travel in her Ford SUV, champagne-colored. Currie was the designated driver; Susie, Colleen, and Chance took the back seat; and I was shotgun.
“We don’t have directions,” I said as we readied to leave the warmth of Colleen’s kitchen for the cold of the night. I’ve been the navigator on all our road trips since we went to the Lost State Writers Conference in east Tennessee, then an Ohio conference, then to Oxford, Mississippi several years ago.
Colleen pulled out her GPS, I mentioned the name of the road where Neil lives, and she began programming. As we buckled up (Chance’s favorite part) and headed out, I named the GPS “Katherine” after me.
We began to roll amidst laughter over Chance’s pink drink picture on Facebook and “New York Susie” copying my Southern accent. Katherine tried to take us toward the interstate, but because of heavy rush hour traffic, we chose to route ourselves toward Columbia Pike. “Sigh,” Katherine said. “Recalculating.” Katherine did a good job of getting us to Columbia, but it all went downhill after that.
“Turn left,” Katherine said. We did and it looked familiar . . . or like any other highway on a dark Friday night. We were headed in the right direction, when Katherine said, “Turn right.”
“I don’t remember this highway,” I said. Colleen fumbled for her phone in her purse, called Information and got Neil’s number, and punched it in. She handed the phone to me. Neil advised us to turn left at the BP, go until we got to Fountain Creek, and then turn left on Old Lewisburg Highway in a quarter of a mile. I watched Katherine’s screen as he talked and she seemed to be leading us the same way.
We drove east on Highway 50. I leaned forward holding Katherine in my hand and looked out the front window, straining to find Fountain Creek. “Turn left,” Katherine said. “I didn’t see Fountain Creek,” I answered. “In point four miles turn left,” she said again. “I see it, I see the sign,” Currie said and put on her blinker. I saw the green sign ahead and to our left. “But Neil said the road wasn’t well marked,” I said. “Turn left,” Katherine said. So what do you do when you have the choice of knowledgeable human advice or computer advice? You go with the computer and so we turned left and proceeded to drive five miles.
My phone rang. It was my son. “Where are you?” he said. “We’re deep in the country — a narrow road with nothing else around, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, lost, I think.” “Turn around and run if you hear banjo music,” he replied. Susie started humming that familiar deliverance tune.
We passed a primitive church and a house with a big white teepee in its yard. A rabbit ran in front of the car.
“Turn right!” Katherine said. “It’s DIRT!” I said. “We are on a dirt road, y’all!” We drove through a tunnel of thick scrub trees on a one-lane dirt road filled with deep holes and gashes cut across it. A fox or a baby deer crossed in front of us; we couldn’t tell which one it was.
“Turn right!” Katherine said. Uh oh. There was no right. It looked like a road used to be there and someone had backhoed a mound of earth across it a long time ago because it was filled with dead dried weeds and brush and saplings. Come to find out later a bridge had washed out and they closed the road.
By this time, we had all surmised we were lost and going farther and farther the wrong way. So we turned Katherine off, turned around and went all the way back to Highway 50. Let’s go back the way we came and see if we missed something. Meanwhile, Chance took out his IPhone and said we were going farther away from Old Lewsiburg Highway. I vote we go back the other way. [Unison] So Currie made a U-turn and we headed east. After a few miles there was a big green sign: FOUNTAIN CREEK. “Okay, a quarter of a mile, turn left,” I said. Whew. Sure enough, there was road.
Somehow we were unsuredly able to complete the journey from memory and arrived at Neil’s front door, tired and hungry, with a wilderness story to tell. After a warm meal, some Trivia Pursuit, and me lying on the couch under a thick blanket with my feet burrowed against Colleen’s thigh, fighting sleep, we headed back out into the cold starry night. This time on the interstate.
And that is what really happened, and it is why I will stick with my big red Gazatteer atlas books and not get a GPS.