Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lost and Found with Andie MacDowell

The city of brotherly love was showing me none last Tuesday night: one-way streets, signs obscured by construction, forks—or rather sporks-- splitting roads into three, all with the same name.

“Where the hell am I?” was the question racing through my mind as I reached for my cell phone to call home. Forty miles away, my husband had a better chance of guessing where I was than I did.

No, Sarah, I told myself, tossing the phone down, you actually figured out how to program the navigation system, so trust it.

I was on the brink of a mini-panic attack. How would I ever get home? Did I need to head back to that Dave and Buster’s arcade I’d just passed and play Ms Pacman until a kind person coughed up directions to New Jersey?

“In a quarter of a mile, right turn,” chimed the voice on my GPS. It had been silent for a few blocks, miffed that I’d missed an earlier command, but now it was back, offering hope.

In a quarter of a mile, turn right...I could do that.

I looked on the map by my dash and saw a red line squiggling in a few directions, ultimately merging into the bold and wide 95 North, my ticket home.

Don’t think. Don’t look at the map, just listen and do exactly what you’re told, I said to myself, focusing on the paved road ahead.

I did listen, and eventually worked my way through a series of turns and down an unpromising alley to a ramp, keeping a steady speed of about 18 miles an hour and my fingers gripped to steering wheel. A sign the size of a Pop-Tart read “95 North, left ramp.”

LEFT, I told myself, negotiating out of a lean to the right, LEFT.

Up I went, blindly, to an on-ramp, and into the flow of speeding traffic, heading, I could see, away from the sparkling Philadelphia skyline.

No one since George Washington has been more elated to see signs for Trenton.

I drove home in silence that night, listening to my navigation system, and thinking maybe Andie MacDowell wasn’t so bad in Green Card. I should rent it and give it another go.

I owed her one.

She’d gotten me home.

The famous actress and L’Oreal spokesperson may reside near Asheville, North Carolina, but to my husband and me, her voice lives in the dashboard of our Toyota minivan, in the GPS navigation system, which we have affectionately dubbed, Andie.

I invite anyone to sit in the back of our car and listen to her call out directions while watching a copy of Groundhog Day—you’ll hear the same southern vowels and slow, steady delivery. I emailed MacDowell’s agent at ICM to ask if the GPS in my minivan was, in fact, decked out with the voice of the Four Weddings and a Funeral star and got back a, “To the best of our knowledge, it is not,” from the talent agency’s LA office.

Still, a person can dream.

And, if a wife must regularly cede her role as “co-pilot” to the disembodied voice of a beautiful-sounding woman, then I’d like to imagine that it’s one who would never, I think I can safety say, actually sit in the passenger seat of a  bright white minivan in suburban New Jersey and pick fragments of granola bar out of her hair.

That role is exclusively my own.

Which is why I wasn’t threatened when my husband began programming the navigation system for trips to the grocery store.

Or, when, in preparation for our 950 mile drive to Madison, Wisconsin, two summers ago, he set the system and then watched MacDowell's 1990 indie film Sex, Lies and Videotape, while I called triple AAA and ordered a triptik.

Andie helped us make a few planned detours on that three day drive, first to the Botanical Gardens in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and then to the Children’s Museum of Cleveland.

With all due respect to the good folks of Cleveland, the Children’s Museum is probably not one an average family might drive 469 miles to visit, but still, when we pulled into its tiny parking lot, Andie announced with authoritative enthusiasm, that we had, “arrived at our destination.”

Later, when we attempted to get out of Cleveland, she advised my husband to make a “Legal-U Turn”, something that is pretty much impossible in the realm of U-turns, but kind of quaint, in a way, when you’re lost in the middle of Ohio and 250 miles from the Mishawaka, Indiana, where you have a reservation at a Marriott Courtyard.

And when we arrived at the Marriott in Mishawaka, Indiana, to discover that there are two Marriotts in or around Mishawaka, Indiana, she helped us get to the correct Marriott before I joined the cacophonous rounds of “are we there, yet?” chanted by the restless passengers in the backseat with diaper and/or sippy cup refill emergencies.

My GPS is a) older than this, and b) has fingerprints on it
On our return trip, when I decided we’d probably seen enough of Mishawaka, Indiana, she and my husband obliged and took us directly to Toledo. Andie did it because we programmed her to, and my husband, because the Indianapolis Colts had left his beloved New England Patriots in wildcard dust the previous season, and despite the presence of South Bend Chocolate Company kiosks at every rest stop, the state was giving him pre-season jitters.

So, last week, when printed MapQuest directions failed me; when Andie’s first attempt to get me home was undermined by a confusing spork in the road and blocked street signs; when the sheer darkness of the hour made my already weak sense of direction anemic; Andie had faith and I was grateful.

There’s nothing like the persistence of a navigation system: calm, steady, all knowing.

Some people are anchored by a spiritual belief in something akin to this guidance, believing that even if they are lost, they will be guided back and routed on the right path. And, I suppose we ask our children to trust our direction unconditionally for more years than their developing independence makes entirely possible.

I have always felt a responsibility to find a path and to steer myself, never comfortable floating, or even, as I discovered that night, following directions without some sort of internal questioning.

It took the urgency of the moment and the acceptance of my own shortcomings for me to get out of my own way. To trust someone (or in this case, something) else to tell me exactly what to do.

I am not sure the metaphor can be stretched any further, but it reminds of a story I heard on NPR about a novice pilot who, on a solo run, had difficulty landing. She made the attempt several times—circling around again and again. A seasoned air traffic controller finally guided her until, at last, she touched down safely.

After a few minutes, she hopped back in the plane and took off again.

I don’t think I’d have the guts to do that.

But, we ask our kids to every day. Explore. Get Lost. Trust Us. Explore, again. Negotiating the balance between compliance and independence until, one day, they take off.

As their current voice of guidance, I am pretty sure I don’t have the equilibrium of an air traffic controller. Or, even, Andie MacDowell.

And, that's why I think, both metaphorically, and literally, I should probably get lost more often.

It was a good reminder of how much strength it takes to actually listen to--and trust--someone else.

Photo of Philadelphia skyline: Philly: Jasenhudson at en.wikipedia,


Tim Morrissey said...

Being a man, I've never been lost... :) ...but the last sentence of your post is one in which we can all lose ourselves in philosophical thought. Thank you for taking us along on your journey through the night!

judee said...

I can identify.. I had a similar situation on the way home from King of Prussia tonight.. Got lost, couldn't find the turnpike and at night everything looks the same...scary..

Anonymous said...

My husband asked me what voice I wanted programmed into my GPS system. I told him I wanted Sean Connery (of course). He found someone with a British Isle-based accent who sounds suspiciously like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. Guess how we refer to our GPS when we want to know if it's been packed? -Catherine