Thursday, July 03, 2014

On (and off) the road - or when not listen to your GPS

Tonight (Sunday 29th June) I was heading for a gig. The performance was for a client I have worked for for many years. The venue has always been the same. Although I moved with my family about 3 years ago, I know where I am going. The GPS is a safety blanket, if you like, really there to tell me how on time, or in tonight's case, how early I would be.

My, up to this point, trusted GPS, said: "Take that left'. A new route for me, one I have ignored many times. I know the area fairly well and how to get to where I am going. But I had time, so I thought 'why not'. The arrival time says I have plenty of time and I can always back track, I am only a few miles away at this point. So I take 'that left'.  I know it will bring me out on one of the main roads as I have taken the road before. "Take a right," said my GPS. Okay, I am not sure where this will take me, but I still have plenty of time. The pavement ends and a dirt road begins, but there are many dirt roads around here. Some folks vote for them to stay dirt because people drive too fast on some, 'imagine what kind of speed track it would be if it were paved.' So off I go.

I love to drive. When I say drive, I mean DRIVE. I have a stick shift, because that, to me, is driving. Not highway driving either, but the beautiful scenic roads aplenty in New England. Roads with curves, and ups and downs that require shifting gears, and good command of your car. This looked like a fun dirt road, steep in places, curves, downhill bits with hard corners at the bottom. But it was getting narrower. No problem, many country roads in the UK are as narrow as a horse where the speed limit is 50 m.p.h. on some of them. Some of those roads I grew up with have high hedges so you would only know a large tour bus were on the same road, with cars and bikes appearing like magic! I was not driving at 50 mph, but 20 to 25 mph. and then the road began to get muddy, and rocky, and deep grooves made by the last truck which had taken this road. Only two point five miles to my destination and this is the back end of the road the venue is on. Never been this way before. Always come from the other side.  Not sure if it is faster though, even if it is shorter.

Suddenly the road gets worse. I have to drive close to one side or another to avoid the massive grooved tracks and rocks in the road. Huge puddles. Bad drainage. Muddy grooves which I could bottom out in and become stuck in if I am not careful. Pulled out with a big truck stuck, but there is space if I hug the edge. My Corrolla is not a low street car, and has pretty good clearance. When we moved from Boston I saw the practicality of a sensible car on back roads such as this. Wait, did the bottom of the car scrape? Not good. 'If it happens again, I will turn back. But the road is narrow. How can I turn around?' I think.  I look for a spot. Only 2 miles now. Still have time. (Ever seen The Incredibles? Mr. Incredible keeps looking at his watch, saying "I've got time." And JUST makes it to his own wedding. And then I see the road in front is half stream, and half mud and rock. There is JUST enough space and there are rocks I can put in the tracks to give me the clearance I need. It can't get worse than this, I think. I place the rocks carefully on the road where I need them, get in the car, cross the muddy road and nip over, but hear the car bottom out again, but I made it.  Around the corner, down the hill, even closer now, but wait. There is NO WAY I can get through there.  Backing up a muddy dirt road is not an easy task. But I did it, and found a fence with a heavy duty cable which the back of my car should just sneak under. It does, I turn the car around and head back to the narrow crossing. Time is now Very Tight.

When I drive over the rocks this time, they are not high enough. Of course. It is muddy and the weight of the car driving over it pressed the rocks into the ground. My car bottoms out and gets stuck. Only a little bit, I tell myself. The front wheels (front wheel drive) are spinning. Mud flecks hit the windows. Bother. I got out of the car, and look underneath. There is a space where there is no daylight coming through. I looked around and seeing some rocks in the stream which flows across the road pull them out of the water and get them up against the front wheels. They don't bite. I try putting bits of sticks and wood which surrounds me under the tyres (UK spelling). Nothing. Need to call the venue and let them know I am stuck. I feel like an idiot, and for good reason. No phone signal (great), so I keep trying to get the car unstuck. Now it is smells like the clutch is working too hard. More rocks, stones and wood, but they are just pushed into the mud.

At this point I need to call. I am going to be late even if I can get off the rocks - I need help. So I walk and walk and walk until I get a signal. I walk at least a mile to get a signal. Help will be sent. I walk back. Up hill. And run some. I cannot just sit and wait. I am not like that, so I think and think. What do I need to do to move the car? It needs to be raised off the mud. If I empty the car it will be lighter, and might be high enough. I empty the car. Still not off the mud.  I need a lever. There is nothing strong enough that I can see. Then I realize that I could jack the car up! I can put stones and rocks (they are littered everywhere) under the wheels and bring the car height up and drive off this ruddy, muddy knoll!

I get the jack out and keep trying to get the car higher. Getting the jack under the car was a slight problem, but I found a couple of spots with enough space to get the jack under with a stone underneath it so it would not just push itself into the mud. One side of the car done, and then the other. No sign of help yet either. I look at my watch and it has taken an hour to do all this. It almost works, but need to get the car a little higher, so up with the jack again. A larger, longer and flatter piece of rock and I can get moving. This is a ruddy workout. I am now filthy. And mosquitoes are feasting on me tonight. I do get moving. And I remember to pack the car up again. But going down the hill was not as easy as going up. Too fast and I will crack something in one of the many ditches, which seemed to be fine going up hill. I also don't want to go too fast in case a large truck coming to rescue me is coming in the other direction from around a sharp bend.

I get out of this mess and I get a signal again on my phone, and a huge truck is flagging me down.

Windows down and a Southern accent calls out: "Are you Simon Birch?"

"No Simon Brooks, but have you come to rescue me?" I say.

"We did! Gees look at your car! How did you get out? We tried coming from the other side and couldn't make it."

The grill of this truck was higher than the roof of my car! I could probably drive a smaller, lower car under the truck! I told them what I had done, with sweat still running down my face.  They cannot see my white pants covered in mud, but I show them my brown hands still ingrained with mud.

"Are people still waiting for me?" I ask. "Is my contact still up?" My contact has young kids and sometimes takes off to put them to bed before I finish my stories there.

"No, everyone's gone to their cabins now. Sorry we were late getting to you, we couldn't find the road from this side."

"Hey, thanks for trying, I really appreciate it." I felt like saying, 'here, take my blooming GPS it will get you there!' but I didn't.

"We'll see you next week. Get home, now! And no short cuts, okay?"

"No more short cuts, I promise!" I told them there was a house with a drive just a few feet up the road, and that they shouldn't go further up the road unless they wanted to back the truck down the hill.  There was no way that beast could be turned around. It would have barely fit on the 'road'!

So what's the point of sharing my stupidity with you? (I still have dirt under my nails, but I will get that out as soon as I finish this.)
Learn from my mistakes. I knew how to get to the gig. I have been there probably at least 50 times, over the years. I thought I had time to check out a new route.
I didn't, it turned out. Don't do what I did! Go the route you know. Even if the GPS says 'This way could be quicker'. It may not be. Also, if you hit a dirt road that looks rough, hit that button that says, 'Find Alt Route' and tell your GPS there's a road block. Or look at your map to find another route. You do have a map for back-up, right?

And the fall out from this: My daughter heard me leaving a message when I got home apologizing for messing up the evening. The whole drive back home I was thinking that this stupid mistake not only makes me look bad, but also my client. They had planned to entertain their guests, and they were not able to. I felt terrible that I had let them down. My daughter told me it was not my fault, that I did not know I would get stuck. But what I did know, was that taking the road I knew, and had taken many, many times, would get me there in plenty of time. That if I had taken that well known route, I would have arrived looked spiffy in my white pants; and felt fresh and relaxed and ready to welcome people into the place of story. It was my fault I did not take that route, and instead I got myself filthy, and bug bitten, but more importantly, I left my clients patrons disappointed.

UPDATE (3rd July): Last night, after arranging for a make-up (for free of course) I went to the venue. I arrived very early taking my normal route. I told stories for about an hour and a half, including the tale I told above. The people there (who were the same folks waiting for my stories on Sunday) were thrilled I was there and got a good laugh out of the adventure. My clients were happy I had offered to make up for my bad choices of route and I will be back there on the 7th July!

Happy 4th July everyone!