Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Challenges of A Simple Journey

The simplest journey may still be rife with challenges.

Yes, I know that sounds deep and philosophical and stuff.  In this case, though, I'm talking literally.  Specifically, in writing this I refer to my drive to work today.

Oh, right--those who aren't in the know yet will be happy to hear, I hope, that I am once again happily and gainfully employed.  I've joined the team of a small college on the north side of Philadelphia, happy as a rooster in a henhouse to rejoin the quest to pile a great deal of knowledge into students' heads.

That means, of course, that my author bio is once again incorrect in all of its different incarnations.  Now I get the joy of trying to find it everywhere and remembering how to edit it in each of those places.  I think this time instead of "Stephen lives in Virginia--no, Memphis--no, Pennsylvania" I'm going to write "Stephen lives in the United States in a location that is not on a gorgeous beach close to a source of inexpensive alcoholic beverages" and then dare fate to make that one incorrect.

So, yeah--Pennsylvania.  Beautiful, beautiful place.  Horribly windy roads.  Horribly windy roads that change names mid-ways down, unless they're known primarily by number, in which case that sometimes changes at random, too.  Oh, my lord, driving in this place always seems to take me to the same destination: "crazy."  It's like the road system here was designed by a committee of drunken monkeys, and flatulent drunken monkeys, at that.

That said, after several weeks of driving it and generally figuring out what is where, I'm finally feeling comfortable enough to drive without the naggingdirection of Bertha.  Yes, I call my GPS app on my cell phone Bertha.  It--well, it just seems to fit.

So I've made it to work a couple of times, and back home again, too, without her help.  That's significant, because it's about a 25 mile drive down Drunken Monkey Lane.  But yesterday, after following various major roads, I got wild and crazy and decided to look in Google maps for the optimal route.

Now, optimal route is much like the term best novel; everybody has their own ideas on how that should be chosen.  Bertha, in particular, seems to use traffic data taken from somewhere--Hogwarts, possibly?--to determine it, and she also loves recalculating frequently, and occasionally with rather surprising results.

"Turn back there!"  *screech* *squeal*

To me, though, optimal means shortest.  I know, it's only a mile or two worth of gas that's the difference, but still.  I like driving, or at least knowing, the shortest path from one point to another.  Hence, my research yesterday.  And hey, I found it.  Last night I drove it home.  It's a nice path through rural Pennsylvania, in the evening, at least if you don't mind ignoring occasional low speed limits.

This morning?  Another story entirely.

You like stories, right?

So I pulled onto my new optimal route just as the coffee was really settling in between the red blood cells.  It's a pretty two-lane road headed generally south, and I loved driving it for the first few minutes.  Then the guy in front of me came to an abrupt stop.

Now, I'm sure some of you will argue that an abrupt stop is what you should accomplish at a stop sign.  And yes, you'll generally be correct.  But then that guy executed a left turn, leaving me with a full, unobstructed view of the huge "Road Closed" sign ahead of me as well as the poor hardhatted kid set to guarding it.  He looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

Which way to go?  Straight, the direction to my work, was blocked.  My remaining options were, of course: left, or right.  In a flash impulsive kind of thing, I decided to follow the guy who'd made the left turn.  Clearly, he had to have known that there was something down that-a-way, yes?

It was a wise choice.  A couple of hundred yards down the road a street sign indicated Old Windy Bush jutting off to the right, heading back down the way I needed to go.  I rejoiced; the road I had been so indelicately removed from was called Windy Bush.  I know I couldn't just assume that Old Windy Bush joined up with the new Windy Bush, but it was just as likely as it not joining up, so I took it, and a couple of miles later found myself at one of those drunken monkey-designed Y intersections, this one joining Old Windy Bush with Windy Bush.

After flipping a not-entirely-professional gesture toward the "Road Closed" sign at that end of the construction site, I turned triumphantly back down my chosen path.  And then, as luck would have it, a couple of miles farther down the road I saw--yes, again.

Road Closed.

By this point, I was done with the optimal route crap and just wanted back on a road I knew would go through.  Thus, I turned right; I remembered that out that direction there were a few routes I'd been on before.

And then I entered--you guessed it, probably: Drunken Monkey-ville.  The road spun about to the left and went--well, somewhere.  I guess the reason they don't put up a sign telling people that they're in the middle of Nowhere is that, when you're there, it's pretty dang obvious.

And so there I was, touring Nowhere at 45 mph.

Finally, though, I came to another intersection.  Now, imagine--heck, don't imagine, just write--a capital X.  Cursive, not block print, and complete with curls.  Now turn it up so that it's on one leg.  That's the intersection I found myself staring at a red light through.  And I was so done, so over that path.

I picked up my cell and started Bertha up.  I'm surprised she didn't begin with a maniacal cackle or two when she realized where I was, but she didn't.  She also started quickly, for once; usually when I'm en route to somewhere and start her up, she takes so long loading that by the time she's ready to offer advice I'm already past the decision point and a couple of miles farther from my destination.  "In approximately three hundred fifty yards, make a U-Turn, you idiot," her mechanical voice always says.

But no, this morning she zipped right to life.  I opened the search option, picked my work address, and was delighted when she immediately told me to turn left.

Left.  Okay, okay, I can do that.  Left, it is, and onward to civilization.  I looked up at the light, which was still red.

I looked back down to see what the next turn would be, only to note that she'd changed her mind.  Straight through the intersection, now.

Wait.  What?

Oh, wait, she apparently decided.  Not straight through; that would be wrong.  Turn right, she ordered and flipped the blue line showing my route over to that direction.  And then, while I watched in dumbfounded disbelief, she decided it was actually better for me to make a U-turn right there and go back the way I'd come.

It was, I guess, her way of gleefully saying "I got nothin' for ya, buddy."

Screw that.  I turned left.

Before long, I came out on the wrong side of an intersection I recognized from my earlier travels.  Rejoicing, I turned back down the path and finally got to work, only a little bit late and about ten minutes after my bladder decided it was really, totally, completely full.

Not bad, all things considered.  And I'm happy to be back in the working world, regardless.

So, here's hoping you're having as great of a week as I am!


No comments:

Post a Comment