Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Great Humiliation

I'm writing this not because it's particularly interesting, and it's certainly not important or useful information, nor food for thought. I just have to get it out of my system, that's all. I still feel the poison in my blood and you might say I am venting my spleen.

I was taking my son on a college visit to Middlebury College in Vermont. It has a strong Environmental program, and diving, and Chinese, and lots of other things. It seemed a fit for his interests, and we thought we'd check it out. Got a cheap flight with Spirit Airlines and rented a car with Enterprise.

But I left the house without the Garmin -- that was my big mistake.

You'd think that since I have a PhD in Geography and I live in Chicago this would not have happened to me. But I called O'Hare Airport before we grabbed a cab, just to find out what long term parking might cost. Just park in Lot F, I was told: $9 a day. And E was a little closer but just a little more. Great, we'll save a few dollars and do that. So I'm driving to the airport, vigilantly looking for a sign to lots F and E. Surely there would be a sign, right? Wrong. Got right to the airport, pulled over and called O'Hare. Where's the lot?? Oh the lots are on Manheim Road. At this point I'm aiming at the entrance to a large hourly parking lot and must spiral to the top floor and spiral back down again, but finally I'm heading back out looking for Manheim. There. But do I go North or South? Call  O'Hare again: go north. But of course. Finally I park the car and we make the flight.

It was a four hour drive from Boston. We left Enterprise with simple instructions: three rights and a left, north on 93, then my printed directions will do. I navigated the turns correctly, entered a tunnel and immediately saw a small tube with "93" written above it whizz by on the right. Damn! So I took the next closest number, 90, which of course took us in the wrong direction, at 80 mph. By the time we regrouped and were able to exit, my blood pressure was rising, but when I stopped at a small gas station I happened upon the friendliest man I've ever encountered, who went to an old computer, dialed up google maps, and told me to go back to Boston. But I'm terrified of the tunnel, so he found me an alternate route, west, north, east. He printed it, actually rewrote the important parts in capital letters, and sent me on my way with best wishes. "Tell your wife to give you a Garmin for your birthday."

Perfect! I love him! We made it back on the highway, eventually I caught up with my original route and then followed the directions I had printed from home. Now I'm on 107 and it's dark. When the route turned off onto a perpendicular with no warning, of course I whizzed on ahead, but the road I was on eventually whithered to dirt. Backtrack. There is the stupid sign, down the side road and under a bridge. Nice. So we followed 107 deep deep into the woods, up into the mountains, and passed a disconcerting sign saying road closed ahead "to trucks." I'm in a compact rental. We pushed on. Winding, twisting on and on in the dark. There it is. Closed completely. Barricaded. A helpful sign said "Find alternate route."

Thanks! So we backtrack again. It's late now. My phone is nearly dead, and I learn that Isaac's has been dead for a while. It's 10:30 p.m., we're in the wilderness, no map, looking for an alternate route when even the real routes and regular streets are poorly marked. Isaac remembers passing a Shell station when we first missed the 107 turnoff, so we make our way back there. It's open! Again, the nicest person calmly gave me instructions, and a pad of paper to write them down on, and sent us off over the mountain on route 12. A few towns later, we were in Middlebury.

I had to use the the last volt from my phone to call home, because we had no map, and the bed and breakfast was not answering calls. It took 6.5 hours, when google had said 4. But we made it. Charge phone, print maps and return directions avoiding 107.  All prepared for the return trip. 

Had a nice day in Middlebury.

Armed with plenty of maps and directions, and knowledge about closed route 107, we head for Boston at 7:30, for the 1:30 flight. To be safe, we'll take the same open route over the mountain -- route 12. Forty minutes later, guess what. Road closed. As before, a helpful sign: "Find Alternate Route." I get out and ask a construction worker where this alternate route might be found, as I know 107 is also closed. He advised us to backtrack 30 minutes, then south, then over the mountain on 73 then north and east to catch up with our planned route, 89, then 93 south. We did it; it worked! But now we're cutting it close. No more mistakes.

Hours later everything is going fine.  We're approaching Boston and it's "Isaac wake up, get the directions, get the map, we have to make these turns."  We are prepared.  Instructions, maps, pilot and copilot at full alert;  we are braced for the tunnel and getting close.  It's exit 24B, he says, and there, a sign saying 24B with an arrow pointing straight down to the second lane.  Reassuring.  I enter lane two and into the tunnel I am sucked along with heavy traffic, I'm staying resolutely in my lane but there streaking past on the right is a tunnel exit labeled 24B, like an exact flashback from two days earlier.  I nearly smash into the wall but stop myself, and take the next exit, 23, pull over in front of a fire station and call Enterprise rental.  What else could I do?  Now I am probably going to miss the flight.

"Where are you?" Pearl Street? "What town?" I get out and ask a fireman. Boston already. "Which Pearl Street, there are two." I can see this is not going well, but finally it's settled. I get on 93 back north and exit on 24B. I do find my way back into the helltube and ... no 24B exit, first I see is 25, 26, and 27 which I swerve off onto, to find myself on a long bridge heading out of Boston. I take an exit ramp. I'm in a town called Chelsea now, apparently cut off from the city by a bridge which I am ready to jump off of, but back onto which I can not enter.

Call Enterprise again, this time in such a disassembled state that Isaac must do the talking. My brain has shut down except for the lizard portion which can still steer the car. Fortunately, on the line is a person even calmer and nicer than any of the others. Her name is Stephanie.

Stephanie talked me down from the ledge by describing each turn, each intersection, and every step of the way. We took ramps, navigated an abbreviated round-about, and even got back on track when we once strayed. Turn after turn, she and Isaac were able to communicate, and I could drive. So, we made it to Enterprise, someone was in the lot to take my keys, we jumped on the shuttle, suffered the security delay, and made our flight. Thank goodness.

And a big thanks goes out to what we both call "East Coast helpfulness," and to all the random people who gave us some.

I feel a little better now.


  1. That tunnel is not fun, even with a GPS!

  2. That story makes me feel a whole lot better about my bus bewilderment in Seattle. Waiting at the wrong bus stop for 20 minutes seems like a piece of cake now. :)


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