Cue the dueling banjos


Our GPS device is like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

First, you should know that she gives directions in a British accent. I’m totally serious. She sounds a little bit like Helen Mirren, if Helen Mirren were giving you driving directions while being AutoTuned. Her crisp diction and cold demeanor keep our driving focus on the task at hand, not, say, gossiping, as we might if she had a Southern accent, or craving Polish sausage, if she were from the Upper Midwest.

I’ve recounted the story of how we set her compass toward Kings Dominion outside Richmond and, trusting fully in her navigational skills, followed her instructions without deviation. And we were surprised, then, to hear her announce “Arriving at destination–on right–” as we pulled up next to a small brick McMansion in rural Virginia.

On our trip back from Atlanta, she decided we’d seen enough of the interstate for one one-month period (and granted, we’d driven about 3,000 miles of them). While I slept, she convinced Beau to take an offramp onto a U.S. Highway that started out freeway-like but ended up as a divided highway with stoplights running through the tiny towns between Lynchburg and DC.

It didn’t seem to take us any longer than the interstate would have, and the scenery was pretty enough. Virginia’s stretch of I-95 is a punishing corridor of nothing, broken only by the too-infrequent rest area or tobacco industry headquarters. For a while, we were grateful for her sly transgression and went along with it. I even searched on my phone to see if we’d be fortunate enough to get within ten miles of a Pei Wei, but no luck.

As we drove the winding roads, we passed few cars. It seemed like we were one of the few people using Labor Day as a travel day. But I was still slightly unnerved. I called my sister-in-law and told her we were in Deliverance territory. She told us to run if we heard anyone fire up a banjo. I assured her running was our default response to hearing banjos in any context.

At one point, we passed a minivan. A gray-haired gentlemen sat behind the wheel, remarkable only for the Day-Glo yellow sign he held up in his door window. On it, he’d written, “OBAMA means everything free but self-respect.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked Beau. Beau didn’t know. I looked back at the driver. He refused to look over at me, and so his face remained in stern profile, unblinking, the sign unwavering. I kept hoping he’d flip it over and complete the thought, the way composition students are taught to back up their claims with evidence, but he didn’t move. And then our little fuel-efficient Scion (a four-banger!) overtook his Goliath of a minivan and the man and his sign vanished in our rear view.

It’s times like those when I’m grateful for having the Psychotic Helen Mirren-brand GPS in puckered up against my windshield. Look at all the strange I get to witness just by getting behind the wheel! Who knows where we’ll end up next time? Milwaukee, Montauk, Monaco…only Helen Mirren knows for sure.

Have Scion, Will Travel

I’m smack in the middle of a long roadtrip. This week I’m visiting family in Detroit and in a few days I’ll be back in DC.

So far, I’ve put 1700 miles on my car. That’s almost as far as it was when I moved from Phoenix to DC.

Beau and I drove overnight from DC to my parents’ place in Wisconsin, about 18 hours of driving. We had to time it right so we could hop on a ferry to take us there, so it meant leaving at 2:30 in the afternoon and getting there at 6 am.

We were there for almost a week (swimming, taking nature walks, and I even got to give a little reading to a big crowd!) and then drove to Milwaukee to visit old friends (Brewers game, tailgaiting, local bar, brunch, art museum, frozen custard), and then Beau flew off on his own while I made the trek to Detroit.

It’s times like these when I think maybe I should have been a trucker. I love driving. I love road trips. Fortunately, so does Beau, and he’s a good passenger.

Arden’s with us too, so she had her first lake experience (she was not a fan) and for the past few days has been riding shotgun with me.

Dumb Betty

I wanted to tell you a funny story from a few weeks back when Beau was here.

We got some friends together and hopped in the Scion to visit Kings Dominion, just outside Richmond. I had initially looked up directions on Google and saw it would take, theoretically, two and a half hours (ugh). We pulled out of DC with about that much time to spare before the gates opened, but I had forgotten the actual physical address of the park, so I just searched for it in the GPS index, found it, and set our destination.

We set out feeling laughy, happy, excited. We named my GPS Betty because she has a sort of librarian-like tone in her voice when giving instruction, and she’s awfully insistent. Betty estimated the trip would only take slightly longer than an hour–and we were so thrilled we didn’t even think why.

When we were about five miles away, with an hour to spare before opening, we opted to pull into a rural Dunkin Donuts. Across the street were two individuals selling “BBQ and Fish” they were cooking inside what looked like big trash barrels. It was just after 9 am. Let me reiterate that. The line inside the middle-of-nowhere Dunkin was nearly out the door and stayed that way the entire time we were there. So we sat, enjoyed some scalding hot coffee, devoured donuts and such, and then drove off on Betty’s recommended side streets to what I assumed was a back entrance to Kings Dominion, since we couldn’t see it.

“Turn Right in point-two miles,” Betty said suddenly, “and arrive at destination on right in point-two miles.”

We looked around. We were in the midst of one of Virginia’s famous McMansion developments. A man in a ratty t-shirt and boxers shuffled out from his front door to grab the Saturday paper, his eyes just half-slits. A kid rode by on a bike and looked at us like alien creatures, which I suppose we were.

“Nice driving, Betty,” someone said. I pulled over, half in denial of not being at the park, and half because I wanted to ring Betty’s little librarian neck.

Then, it began to rain. As if matters couldn’t get worse. Rain on theme park day is like finding a pube in your french fries, but a little sadder, because more people are affected.

Everyone whipped out a Blackberry (it was a fully Blackberried or Motorola Q-d car load) and began browsing for the correct address. When I finally got it and plugged it in, Betty realized we still had about an hour left. Everyone groaned. We wove our way out McMansionhood and crossed Jefferson Davis Highway (for real, that’s what it’s called) back onto the interstate, where, an hour letter, Betty told us we had arrived at our destination–this time, we knew it was true, as we were centered in an enormous, nearly empty parking lot, but it was Kings Dominion’s parking lot, and then we were there.