Friday, September 4, 2015

CHASING MARY--Navigational Challenges

This summer seemed like the perfect opportunity for a road trip. My trusty old Civic feebly sputtered its way back from Seattle in early June but, alas, was DBA (Dead Before Arrival). I got it towed to a Richmond, B.C. car repair parking lot at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night and said my goodbyes to the vehicle that endured the upholstery beating from two miniature schnauzers, massive, untreated windshield cracks that mysteriously appeared during a café writing session two Olympics ago and severe tune-up neglect from a car owner whose obvious ignorance about all-things-auto always resulted in a trumped up repair bills.

I am convinced the Civic sensed I was giving Google-eyed glances at other cars. It must have known I’d visited a dealer. I’d even another vehicle for a test drive. Hell, I’d fully set my mind to getting a new car. The Civic died two days before I’d planned to trade it in. It would have been sooner but I’d spent three weeks waffling over the color of my next pretty new thing. That color indecision and the Civic’s keen senses about my wandering eye cost me dearly: a towing, a needless diagnostic assessment on repair costs ($8-10,000!) and no trade-in.

Life happens.

I shrugged off the bad timing and bought my Mini Cooper. British Racing Green (which sounds like a Benjamin Moore-rejected name for dark green). It suits the new downsized me. In April, I went from 2,000 square foot house to postage stamp condo. So long sedan; I’ve now got a car that can toot about alongside Little Jimmy’s Big Wheel.

The funny thing is that now that I’m back in Vancouver, I don’t actually need a car. I walk most places and take the bus or Skytrain when my foot blisters get fussy. But that’s where the road trip thing came in. I couldn’t let my shiny new toy sit in a parking garage.

I should have gotten a GPS system when I bought the car, but I’m not a gadget guy. Besides, I don’t like humanoids becoming my travel companion. I might fall in love if I choose a male Aussie voice. (That’s what happened to Joaquin Phoenix, isn’t it?)

Unfortunately, two days into my trip to Minneapolis, I lost all sense of direction. Each evening, I Google-mapped and Mapquested my next day’s route and somehow I’d get all turned around when I neared my stopping point for the night. Billings proved to be the worst. Having driven from Spokane and been spooked by rattlesnake warnings and a severe storm in Butte (complete with radio-interrupted warnings), I was thrilled to see the miles to Billings slim down on road signs. I took my Google Map exit and spun around and around on a series of overpasses, eventually stopping after fifteen minutes of searching for a hotel that was supposed to be three minutes from the freeway exit.

I consulted apps on my phone. First, I couldn’t get any connectivity. Then the trusty app stated it could not locate my whereabouts. I drove a little more through an industrial area and typed in the nearest cross streets. Still no recognition. I was in Billings hell. UnMapquest worthy. After several relocations, the app coughed up a lengthy series of directions. No “lefts” or “rights”, only norths, souths, easts and wests.

Not helpful. My inner compass has never worked and now I was further turned around. I guessed and, yes, guessed wrong. I should learn to go against my instincts, but I keep thinking I’ll guess right one day. It’s that faulty logic that makes me a lottery donor, too.

Sixty-seven minutes after pulling off the highway, I rolled into the hotel parking lot, in the thick of an urban nowhere with a “park” across the street, otherwise known as an abandoned, fenced in lot with untamed grass, a wildlife refuge no doubt to hundreds of rats. I skipped going out for dinner, too worried I would never make it back. Instead, I sat on the hotel bed and finished off my snack box of Triscuits while looking out the window at the unobstructed view of a tractor parts parking lot. Needless to say, I turned in early.

I realize that I need to buy a GPS system…or at least buy a collection of road maps. (Remember those massive paper things that rip in the creases and never fold back into their original state?) But Billings shall bear the brunt of my directionally-challenged frustration.

Sorry, Billings. I’ll always hate you.

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