A few years ago I was strolling down a path in Forest Park when I saw a car approaching. I assumed it belonged to someone from Forest Park Forever and left the path to let it pass. A young man drove; A young woman was sitting in the passenger seat. Was it my imagination or did they intentionally avoid looking at me? Anyway, they stared straight ahead as they passed.
A few moments later I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. It was the same car. I veered off the path again, but this time the car stopped. The driver’s window rolled down.
“Excuse me, sir,” said the young man. “I’m looking for the Hampton Inn.”
“Have you tried Hampton Avenue?” I asked. Sometimes I can’t help myself.
“There are a few Hampton Inns around here,” I said, “but that’s a hiking trail.”
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The young man told me that his GPS sent him into Forest Park and then directed him onto the trail.
“Where we’re from, that could be a road,” he said.
His wife sat with her arms crossed and stared straight ahead. She said without words, I told you.
I was that woman a few years later as my wife and I were driving through a corn field in Indiana. We supposedly took a shortcut on our way to Michigan. We wanted to avoid the never-ending traffic jam east of Chicago. My wife had listened to the confident voice of her GPS. She had faithfully followed him into a cornfield. I sat smugly and said nothing.
That required some restraint. I’m often accused of liking the past too much, and yes, I’ll admit I miss the times when a man could get lost and drive around aimlessly while his wife suggested he stop and ask for directions. The man might nod his wife’s concerns, but he would go on. This is the history of human progress. Men get lost and move on.
Christopher Columbus thought he had finally made it to India when he came across America. I’m not saying he discovered America. Indians have been here before. And how did you get there? One theory has it that thousands of years ago a hunter got lost in Siberia and crossed a makeshift land bridge to Alaska. A competing theory has it that a man got lost on a boat and drifted to North America as the ice sheets retreated.
I agree with this theory. A friend and I once rode his 21 foot ski boat from St. Louis to Mobile Bay. We drove down the Mississippi. There are no signs on the river indicating that the next left bank is the Ohio River. You can drive by. Believe me. On another trip we were in the Chesapeake Bay. We were looking for the Potomac River. To our right was a body of water that looked too wide to be a river. Was it another part of the bay? We finally found a river, but it turned out it wasn’t the Potomac. Many rivers flow into the Chesapeake. We drove up the river. Where was Mount Vernon? Where was the capital?
So my money is in the boat with the unknown guy. He discovered America.
My wife and I recently got lost in the hills around Santa Fe, New Mexico. As with the incident in the cornfield, the GPS lady on my wife’s phone was to blame. As we approached Santa Fe from the north, my wife gave her GPS friend the address of a hotel in Santa Fe. “In six miles, take the so-and-exit,” the woman said. She can’t be right, I said. The hotel is said to be in the city center near the square. We’re too far away.
But I didn’t act from a position of strength. I had already failed the team.
My job at Roadtrips is to make reservations. I’m not proud of that. That contradicts my self-image. I like to think of myself as the adventurous type, the type that sails into the unknown and is ready to take on any challenge that comes my way. That guy doesn’t reserve. He just goes.
Unfortunately, there have been slips. Too few motels, too many travelers. What do you do then? You can continue driving deep into the night or stop at the side of the road. Or you might find a dodgy motel, a place where people come and go 24/7, a place with little black dots bouncing around on the sheets.
This can also happen with reservations. At the beginning of the trip, I got us a reservation at a motel in a small town in New Mexico. It was a dingy place. “I kind of like that,” I said happily as we pulled up. “That’s old fashioned.” Mary stayed in the car while I went to the office. The door was locked. I rang. A woman came and unlocked the door. She looked at me suspiciously. Was I the guy who made the reservation? Yes, I was, I admitted. She made sure to lock the door as I left.
Santa Fe would be very different. I had reserved at a fancy place. This was our last night before starting the two day drive home. We would end our holiday in style. But there was a catch. I had forgotten the name of the hotel. I usually write these things down, but in this case I didn’t.
When we were planning our trip, we talked to an old friend from Arizona. She had suggested several sights. I remembered that she had suggested a hotel in Santa Fe. “Let’s call Nancy,” I said as we drove to Santa Fe. “Maybe she remembers what she told me.”
Mary called Nancy, who gave us the name of the hotel she recommended. I had the uneasy feeling that I had made reservations at another hotel. But the good news is my sanity is slipping. Perhaps I had acted on Nancy’s recommendation. Mary looked up the hotel’s address and dictated it into her phone. Soon we were driving around the hills outside of Santa Fe.
Mary called the hotel for directions and to confirm that we had reservations there. We do not have.
We left the hills, got back on the highway, and made our way downtown. We parked near the square. Let’s just look around, I said.
We turned the corner and saw a hotel. La Fonda. The inn. An old and elegant place.
Let’s try it, I said. We went to the desk and I said with more confidence than I felt I think we have a reservation here tonight. McClellan.
The woman looked at her computer and then smiled at me.
I felt the exhilaration that the ancients must have felt. At least not lost.