I learned to drive in Washington, DC. History says the city architect Pierre L’Enfant envisioned an egalitarian capital, with wide boulevards and public spaces. This vision is realized on the National Mall. The rest of the streets are such a mishmash that conspiracy theorists can and will create any pattern in them: Luciferic pentagrams? Check. Illuminati symbols? Check. An erect penis, complete with wavy pubic hair? Check. (Have you not seen the Washington Monument, with the base encircled by fifty flying flags? Look again, my friend.) My personal theory is that the haphazard road layout, random street name changes, and unexpected one-ways were deliberately designed to confuse an invading army.
Suburbanites get lost all the time. Mission accomplished, Monsieur L’Enfant.
When I moved to LA, I could not believe how easy it was to find my way around the city. LA is laid out like a grid. Streets run north-south or east-west. I arrived before GPS, when everyone had these massive booklets in their cars called Thomas Guides. But WHY? I had a single, one page map and it was all I needed.
Driving in New Hampshire is something else entirely. The roads wind and wander like cow paths. Probably because they once were cow paths.
When I took Andy to Nowhere, New Hampshire for Christmas, I climbed into the driver’s seat. Andy eyed the directions I handed him askance. (No way was he driving. He’s great in rain, but he’s never driven in snow. Or on cow paths.) He pointed to the satellite navigation system in our rental car. “But we have GPS!”
“Which is fine until we leave Interstate 93,” I told him. “After that, forget it.”
My Hawaiian-born, Chinese-American fiancé argued with me – in between exclaiming over all the trees and snow – until I promised to let him try the GPS the next day.
“On your own head be it,” I told him, as we exited the Interstate after over an hour of driving.
“It’ll be fine. So much better than these directions. These make no sense,” Andy grumbled. “There aren’t any names of roads on here.”
“Just read it. I haven’t been here in a while.”
“Fine. ‘Take the bypass. If you hit a town, you missed the bypass. Take the second exit.’”
“Got it. What’s next?”
“Turn right. After you pass the flying diaper—’ what the hell, man? Is that a joke?”
“Nope, it’s a church – right there! More like the pope’s hat than a flying diaper if you ask me, but since it’s a Methodist Church, flying diaper might be less offensive. Next?”
“The directions say keep going up the hill. This is so weird. Why didn’t your Ex-Stepmother #1 give us directions with actual street names?”
“Do you see any street SIGNS?”
Andy peered out the window. “Uh…no. Wait! I see a yellow sign. It says: ‘Break for Moose.’ Is that unnecessary? Isn’t a moose like a thousand pounds?”
“Do people here TRY and hit them or something? Why would you have that sign and no street signs?!”
“I think New Hampshire just likes to mess with the Massachusetts tourists. It’s like DC with the suburbanites.”
“Huh. Now it says, ‘check your odometer at the light.’ But how do we know which light?”
“There’s only ONE light, honey.”
Andy’s mouth dropped open a little as we went under the only blinking light for miles. He continued: “‘Stay on the road for exactly 1.3 miles. Watch out for deer.’ Huh. Do you break for the deer, or just the moose?”
“It’s a judgment call, babe. If you swerve to avoid a deer, you could lose control, hit a tree and get killed. If you hit the deer, your car might be wrecked, but you’ll live. If you hit a moose, you’re toast. The body is so high and heavy it comes right through the windshield.”
“What happens to the deer if you hit it?”
“But what happens to the body?”
“You can take the carcass home with you and feast on venison or you can donate it to the local food pantry.”
“What if it has, you know, really big antlers?”
I shook my head. “You are not bringing a deer head back to LA. I’m almost at 1.3 miles. What next?”
“Turn left onto an unmarked road.” Andy snorted. “All the roads are unmarked!”
I turned left. “Next?”
“‘Go up the hill until you see a stone wall. Keep going past the oxen –’” Andy stopped, then cleared his throat. “An oxen is a really big cow, right?”
“The singular form is ox, babe. But yeah.” We soon passed the two black and white giants. “Is the giant rock next?”
“Yeah. Hang a right. Then go exactly 1.7 miles.”
Within minutes, we pulled up in front of Ex-Stepmother #1’s house. Pretty Space Cadet Sister and Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister ran out and hugged us, before demanding to know where the See’s Candies were. They made off with California’s finest chocolates while Ex-Stepmother #1 met and hugged Andy.
Then she stepped back, and with a twinkle in her eye, asked him, “What did you think of my directions? Don’t you just love the oxen?”
Andy smiled. “The directions were…different. But good. “ He sounded surprised. “We didn’t make a single wrong turn.”
We saved all those for the next day, when Andy “navigated” the trip to our wedding florist. Stay tuned.