Saturday, July 12, 2008

Highway Headaches

It does not take long to develop a headache while traveling on the highway, and we could tell, almost immediately, that we were working up to one of epic proportions.

We had spent a happy weekend at the beach and were all set for a three-hour drive to West Point. Our friends saw us safely to the Delaware Bridge, and then we were all alone, armed only with a printout of Google directions. We decided, early on, to stop and buy a road map, for "just in case." Easy enough.

We pulled over into the first truck stop and went inside, where a rack of maps beckoned from the far corner. We made our way over there to find myriads of maps, from a NASCAR Atlas and a city map of Philadelphia to all sorts of other obscurities, but the multi-state (small states, mind you) map we sought did not seem to exist. There were maps of individual states galore ($5.00 each), but do we really need a Texas-size map of New Jersey? If we can get the whole state of Texas on one $5.00 map, the New Jersey map ought to go for about 25 cents.

We already knew we were going to be too late for the Highland Falls reception that afternoon, but we had tentative hopes of arriving in time for the evening's band concert at West Point, and after a cursory study of the map, we were pleased to determine that the Google directions were right on track. So we folded the map, replaced it on the rack, bought a couple of sodas ("pop" in New Jersey) to mitigate our guilt at not buying the map, and hit the road.

We were making good time, keeping one eye on Google, and all was well until we exited, as per Google directions, and found ourselves in Never Never Land. Just like that, we were lost, on a freeway that Google never heard of. After wandering around like the tribes of Israel, we stopped at a gas station to see if we could figure out where we were. It was absolutely the only civilization in sight, and we were happy to see a sign proclaiming "Open 24 Hours a Day." Only when we tried to go in the door was locked.

Then we noticed the attendants across the parking lot at the pumps. Oh, yeah, we found out later, this was New Jersey. The only state that doesn't allow self-service. No wonder the price of gas is $4.79. After finally getting the attention of a non-English-speaking attendant,we were directed through a garage door where we were met by a non-English-speaking customer service specialist.

We asked if he had any maps and he took us into another room where there was a whole counter full of maps...under lock and key. We asked if we could see the maps; he countered with which map did we want? It took every persuasive power we could muster up to convince him that we did not know where we were, and we really didn't know which map we needed.

I'm not so sure he knew where we were, either, but abruptly, after soundly berating us for using Google instead of MapQuest, an "AHA!" look came over his face and he began pointing frantically at the highway in front of us, directing us to "Tappan Zee Bridge." Huh???

Not knowing enough to even discuss the situation intelligently, we got back on the highway in search of the Tappan Zee. At one point we actually saw a sign for it, but then all at once we were at the George Washington Bridge. Well, there's nothing like the blind leading the blind, and across we went. Suddenly the highway was tracking with Google again and we were feeling hopeful that we might actually make West Point in time for the concert.

And then it began to rain in a torrent that would have done credit to Noah. The rain went on for miles, or maybe it just seemed miles, reduced as we were to a speed of about 10 mph. We re-evaluated our goal: Forget the concert, let's just get there.

On we went, holding our breath, while the storm raged away. It eventually cleared up and gave way to the most gorgeous of scenery, but we could not afford to squander one bit of our attention on it. Up and up and up we went into the mountains, sheer rock walls going straight up on both sides. And then going around a bend, we unexpectedly came to the edge of a cliff. We pulled over and got out of the car and found ourselves looking down in amazement at a medieval fairy tale of clouds and castles.

West Point! And in time for the concert! But, alas, when we presented ourselves at Stony Lonesome Gate, we were informed that due to the rain the concert had been canceled. All that worry for nothing! And then all that was left was to get ready for tomorrow.

Before going to the hotel for the night, we visited the local convenience store on a quest for local picture postcards, the kind that used to proliferate at every gas station and drugstore. It seems they are becoming a thing of the past, and there were none to be found that night. But, we did find that mythical multi-state (the entire northeast) map we had searched for earlier, and I was semi-happy to plop down $5.00 for it. Where was this map when we needed it? Well, never mind, we had it now.

We went back to our hotel then, but between another roaring thunderstorm and knowing we had to be up at 4 the next morning, sleeping that night was something of an exercise in futility.

The next day, my Man and I dropped M off at R-Day and prepared to head home. On our way north, we had been faced with a superfluity of toll booths, and while they were many, we consoled ourselves with the fact that the tolls were small, ranging from 35 cents (Why do they even bother?) up to $1.10; now we armed ourselves with a pocket full of quarters, in addition to our new map and our trusty Google directions. And optimism.

Google came into question once more, almost immediately, when it directed us to Highway 17K. K? What kind of a highway number is that?! But, whaddya know, Google was right again, and we took off down Highway 17K on our "three-hour" trip to Long Island MacArthur Airport.

That three-hour trip was replete with its own set of quirks and glitches. Right off the bat we met up with a toll booth. "Only" $1.10. We were amused (well, sorta amused) by the EZ Pay signs announcing an upcoming toll booth. Like they were advertising a desirable product of some sort. We forked over our $, and went through, and as soon as we got up to speed on the other side, the traffic started s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n. It stayed that way for quite awhile, making us glad that we had allowed five hours for our three-hour trip. We never saw what happened to cause the delay, but after awhile it sped up again, just like it had slowed.

Before long we started to notice signs for the Tappan Zee/George Washington bridge. Google had noted this stretch of highway as "partial toll," so we weren't overly disturbed to find ourselves confronted with yet another toll booth. I stopped and rolled down the window, little coin purse in hand, ready to whip out a couple of quarters when I heard, "$8.00." "EIGHT DOLLARS?!!!" I shrieked. The toll taker calmly pointed down at a sign, and sure enough, there it was: "Cars $8.00." Well, then...Excuse me while I dig deep down in my purse for my big bucks. I apologized for my outburst, explaining that we were from Texas and knew nothing, thank goodness, about that sort of thing.

While I had his attention, I inquired about the bridge. Is it Tappan Zee, or is it George Washington? He took it all in stride, and bless his heart, being that rarest of public servants who is not only courteous, but actually knows more than just "his job," he was able to he clear up that little mystery for us. He explained that the northgoing lanes make the Tappan Zee bridge, and the southgoing lanes make the George Washington bridge. The Tappan Zee, as we had already noticed on our way north, was free, while the George Washington more than made up for that fact.

Then he asked me where we were going. I told him, and he offered directions which, we were pleased to note, matched right up with our Google directions. "After you cross the bridge, go right and then get on the Trog's Neck bridge." Trog's Neck?! What kind of name is that? Oh, wait. I know, I know...whatever a trog may be, the name is pure, quintessential New Yoahk. What he failed to tell us was that it would cost us another $5.00 to cross the trog's neck. I guess he was saving that for a surprise.

Lacking any sort of options, we girded up our loins and set out across the bridge. So far so good, but as we merged onto the trog's neck, we just barely missed being sideswiped by a car which almost missed the bridge altogether. We made it across untouched, just barely, and into Queens, down through a tunnel, and out into the Twilight Zone on yet another freeway unknown to Google.

We were going along at a pretty good clip, not really knowing where we were going. We would have liked to pull over somewhere and consult our map without having to worry about dodging anything, but there isn't enough space to stop a car in that part of the country. I really don't know how they do it. So we kept on going, and just about the time we were ready to throw in the towel, the sign changed, and we were back on track with Google! That was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Queens was the last obstacle in our quest for LIMA. That and the rubberneckers ogling a wreck on the other side of the freeway (hate their luck, but, thank You, God, for ours) backing up the traffic for miles. I cannot conceive of anything more nerve-wracking, and how four police cars managed to make it to the scene I cannot even imagine.

One particular point of interest while negotiating the Trog's Neck/Queens/Long Island labyrinth was a sign pointing the way to King's Point, home of the USMMA. M had a passing interest in going there at one time. Good thing that didn't work out.

My hat's off to Google. In retrospect, all of our troubles came from putting our faith in the highway signs instead of in Google. Thanks to M and what turned out to be Google's letter-perfect directions, we were never lost; we only thought we were lost. But sometimes that's as good as the real thing.

From safe at home, thank God for M and Google.

No comments: