Friday, November 24, 2017

Encounters on the Road

Giving directions to lost or misguided travelers has to be more of an art than simple science. No, I'm not including the often comical language barrier in that statement. Although that's usually the first thing people imagine in that circumstance when the person needing to be set back on the right path can't understand those trying to help him or her. Even when those involved all speak the same language everything from conflicting personalities to the way different people view the world around them often make the task next to impossible.

There are usually two complicating factors that make it difficult for me to help someone trying to get to their destination. The first being that South Carolina, the state where I live, has a pretty crappy record in putting up proper signage for anything like roads or most buildings. Yes, there are always exceptions with the big glaring ones immediately coming to mind being anything to do with golf courses or outlet shopping malls.

I'm actually surprised the managers of golf courses haven't bought blimps adored with hundreds of pulsating LED lights arranged in an arrow pointing down and positioned them over their property. That way all the middle-aged males looking for a relatively cheap way that will allow them to smack their little white balls could be guided to the proper location like the star that brought the three wise men to Bethlehem. The same holds true for the outlet malls, which from what little I know always need their parking lots filled to overflowing with gullible tourists ready to max out their already abused credit cards.

When it comes to places like government buildings and even hospitals in some instances, proper signage that will allow the unfamiliar to quickly find them is often a hit and miss situation. That's where this story begins with me trying to play the Good Samaritan but with personalities soon making the situation far worse.

My family and were on our way home from the usual Disney vacation. I can't really remember the year, but my son and daughter were young enough that we needed to let them run around the big rest stop located just inside the South Carolina border. If there is one constant in the parenting universe it is that small children get really grumpy and then whiny when they have to stay still inside a moving car too long. It didn't take my wife and I long to learn that if our kids were allowed to burn off just a little amount of energy in the middle of a long drive it saved us from agonizing hours of complaints and even questioning our adult choices in life.

Anyway, that rest stop has plenty of green space filled with now largely unused heavy duty steel charcoal grills, cement benches, and tables that were designed to allow travelers to picnic while on the road. After navigating the crowds inside the main building and doing the ubiquitous bathroom runs, I was back outside with the kids watching them climb over the cement benches and tables. At the same time my wife was in one of her social gadfly moods striking up impromptu conversations with just about anyone who would respond. This is where Sam and Lulu enter the story.

Sam and Lulu could best be described as a late middle-aged to early senior citizen couple traveling from a small town in southwest Georgia with their destination an equally obscure one fairly close to my hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina. Where things get weird with Sam and Lulu is that from their style of clothing both were clearly into biker culture with age and infirmity being the only reason they had transitioned to driving a car.

Sam was dressed in jeans and t-shirt but his biker roots shown through from the leather vest and cap he was wearing along with heavy riding boots on his feet. He was overweight but I could tell it was more muscle than fat and despite his age, there was no way in hell I would have started a fight with him. Long story short Sam looked like a disgruntled, antisocial Santa Claus fed up with spoiled kids and modern parents. Lulu pretty much complimented her husband wearing close to the same attire, except that even though she had to be in her early sixties, she was still stunningly beautiful.

Somehow my wife had learned that not only did Sam and Lulu need directions but that their destination was a town where I once worked while we were dating. The town is called Hemingway and it is about as off the beaten path as you can get in South Carolina. Getting to Hemingway just from the relatively short distance of my hometown involves navigating a series of county roads that I knew only from repeated trips. What I mean is that there was no real way I could name the road designations to Sam or Lulu that would guide them to their destination nor how many miles they would have to drive. The absolute best I could do was suggest they continue on I-95 then turn east onto U.S. Highway 378. From there signs should guide them in the rest if the way, that is if the markers were not destroyed or had fallen over.

Point blank, the people of the great state of South Carolina think proper roads are a waste of taxpayers money. So while the major highways are kept somewhat in decent shape for the tourists, rural roadways can take on a third world look in some counties. That means crumbling asphalt with weeds popping up between the cracks, potholes so bad there are numerous patches on top of patches, and signs that are either falling down due to lack of upkeep or shot full of holes by joyriding rednecks. Do not even begin to ask about small bridges and how badly they have been maintained over the years. 

This allows me to segue way into why Sam and Lulu simply didn't get a map from the main building of the rest stop. Because unlike other states, namely Florida whose border rest stop appears to have far longer open hours and serves free orange juice, the one we were at just off I-95 was closed for the day. Another factor was Sam, after talking with him for a few minutes it was clear he was the type of guy that didn't want to ask for directions. If Lulu and my wife hadn't struck up a conversation she and Sam would have certainly driven off without any real idea where they were going.

After giving Sam my meager directions he immediately shook them off saying there had to be a better and quicker way of getting to Hemingway. I told Sam there was certainly a better way but I didn't know it. Sam then started rattling off the names of small towns I was only vaguely familiar and how someone back home assured him they all ultimately connected to Hemingway. After Sam's convoluted naming of small towns he stood in front of me with a strange, enigmatic smile. He was either waiting for me to affirm his route or was just thinking how I was an idiot for not already knowing it.

In case you haven't already figured out Sam didn't actually want correct directions. He wanted someone to just confirm his ideas. This gets to my main point about giving directions being more of an art, and truthfully an exercise in diplomacy. I didn't want to play his game, I was tired and bummed out that my vacation was over. Just to get rid of the guy, I stared off into the distance and bobbed my head around like I was thinking and after a few seconds said something to the effect that sounded about right.

Bingo! Sam's face brighten up with him grabbing my hand shaking it almost wildly and saying he appreciated my help. Minutes later he and Lulu were back on the road while I in turn gathered up my kids and belted them back into their car seats.

Because the kids had burned off some energy, they were asleep just a few minutes after I pulled back onto the highway. The silence between my wife and I was getting awkward causing me to ask if there was a problem.

“Sam has no idea where he and Lulu are going do they?” She asked giving me one of those looks that had equal chance of being good or bad.

“No, not really,” I began, “some of those towns he named aren't anywhere near Hemingway. More to the point, he named two that are way up north next Greenville and Spartanburg. So I figure he's about to get as lost as a person can be.”

“Oh well,” was all my wife said while grabbing one of her magazines. She didn't say another word about Sam and Lulu.


Harry Hamid said...

Ha. I hate trying to give directions, and the only upside is that by the time the person figures out that I screwed them, I'm long gone. I'm just not good at it. Plus, like Sam, some folks don't want to get help.

I'm sure they made it to Hemingway. Eventually?

The Bug said...

I’m in South Carolina RIGHT NOW! We drove down to North Myrtle Beach today. And we DID get lost, but it was my phone’s fault. I don’t know how we used to get around without phone directions. I’m also terrible at giving directions because I can never remember road names. It’s like trying to remember my computer password - I can only do it if I type it with my fingers.

Pixel Peeper said...

While I think that we all lost something with the arrival of Tom-Toms and smart phones with GPS and maps, I find them really helpful. I miss having the big overview of a paper map and knowing which way I'm heading, but navigation systems and phones get me there reliably.

I'll never forget when years ago (before navigation systems and smart phones) a co-worker described the directions to her house for me. "And then you hang on right at the house that Jack built." WHAT??? Turned out I had to hang on right at the bar named The House That Jack Built.

Commander Zaius said...

Harry: Did they make to Hemingway? Almost certainly, but I'm sure it was a long ride.

The Bug: I feel the same way about smart phones and accessing them for directions. My wife and I were in the upstate of South Carolina a few years back and got very much lost. Speaking frankly, my wife is the worst navigator imaginable and more than willing to just drive around not knowing where she is going.

This particular incident took place just a few months after she got her smart phone. Almost an hour into our journey I finally remember there was a GPS and map feature on her phone. After I looked up our location we were only ten miles from the interstate, and finally heading home.

Pixel: LOL!!! I've been on both ends of that situation.

Mycue23 said...

Happy birthday, Ron!