Commentary & Family life 18 Jun 2010 08:21 am

The only way to travel

Here is my June 17, 2010, column from The Alliance Review:

Whoever said getting there was half the fun likely had access to a teleportation machine or a transporter room from the Starship Enterprise.

The truth is that travel — whether by plane, bus or automobile — is a drag. It would be a lot better if you could close your eyes, count to 10, and open them again to find yourself magically at your destination.

(An exception to the “travel sux” rule is bicycling, enjoyable but impractical for most destinations, unless it’s around the corner for a loaf of bread. Even then, the bread gets squished, unless you let it dangle from the handlebars, in which case the bottom of the bag gets chewed up in the tire spokes. But I digress.)

The reason travel is such a chore is that every trip longer than, say, 100 miles involves the same scene: Stopping at a gas station to ask directions from some toothless person whom Fate plops at the door solely to vex wayward voyagers.

My usual method is to ask the most-normal looking person if he or she knows how to get to such-and-such. Inevitably, this person directs me to old Zeke, or the local equivalent, who remembers the days “afore the new-fangled highway come through and wrecked all hereabouts.”

In ancient times, the god Hermes directed lost travelers, but if any remnant of the deity peers out at me from beneath the shaggy locks of some human door mat at these petrol palaces, I’ve never recognized him.

The directions I get would sound perfectly natural in “Deliverance,” punctuated by dueling banjos — “Just go down thar aways, past one, two, mebbe three traffic lights and bear left by what used to be the A&P before (insert rambling reverie about the Old Days here), then take the second right to get back on old Highway 25 (a designation not seen on any road sign or map since Nixon was in office), which will take you back to the freeeeeway.” (This last is pronounced the way your grandpa might pronounce a multi-syllabic, deadly disease: haltingly, distrustfully, as if the word is dynamite that could blow the roof off his mouth at any time.)

No sooner am I back on the road than I can imagine Zeke & Co. laughing at me, pulling out a rubber stamp like the one the Red Baron uses to notch another kill on the side of his plane, and tallying his latest victory in a corner of Service Bay No. 2, just out of my sightline.

With the prevalence of online navigation systems and cell phones, maybe you believe such scenes just don’t play anymore.

Wrong.

All that online navigation systems have done is transplant Zeke to the dashboard, where he offers his spurious advice on a computer screen or in a monotone, robotic voice. Call him Zeke 2.0.

“Turn - left - next - 2.5 - miles,” offers Cyber Zeke, “onto - Route - 7-slash-11 - bearing - north,” indicating a road that does not exist, and a turn which, if taken, would plunge the unwary driver over the side of a cliff and down, down, down to a hideous death.

As we head into this Father’s Day weekend, I’m painfully aware that dads are supposed to have an inborn sense of direction and the knack of finding polar north even when locked in the hold of a pirate ship with a bomb ticking nearby, like MacGruber in a Saturday Night Live skit.

I’m not that kind of dad. My ability to find my way out of any emergency situation is limited to following the Exit signs in a theater. As far as travel is concerned, I’m a hopeless ninny.

All of which explains why I’d be much happier being beamed up from one destination to another through a Star Trek teleporter. With my luck, though, my inaugural trip would be scheduled on a day that Mr. Scott is on sick leave, and his substitute would be — you guessed it — local pump jockey Zeke.

“Now you say you wanna go where?” he asks, just before hitting the button that sends my body to the Outer Banks — and my head to Peru.

One Response to “The only way to travel”

  1. on 18 Jun 2010 at 1.Ron said …

    Just spent 2 days driving across New York, Massachusetts, a smidgeon of New Hampshire and most of Down East Maine. I don’t ask for directions, just drive around Bath, Maine, for an hour telling my wife “we’ll get to a main road eventually.” We had fun.

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