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After the long haul flight from Melbourne, Australia to Halifax, Nova Scotia at the northeastern point  of North America, heading down to Durham, North Carolina would seem to be dead easy.  There are no direct flights, but an itinerary through Washington DC was the next best thing.  We were going to need a car in Durham, however, and the only way to get one there was for me to drive down.

At one point we contemplated a rendezvous in our nation’s capital.  I would leave a couple of days before she did.  We would catch up with friends in DC over dinner and sail on down to North Carolina together.  That was before our caretaker told us he was going to be in Acapulco, Mexico so he wouldn’t be there to close up the house.

When Richard is around to take care of things, we can walk away from the old place, but his absence changed things completely.  In January a big storm can knock down the power poles and in no time the pipes will freeze.  To hedge our bets, I would have to drain the plumbing, something I haven’t done in a long time.

It is some 1400 miles (2250 kms) from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia to Durham, North Carolina heading down through the mess of New York/New Jersey.  I wanted to avoid that, so we figured out an alternate route through the hills of Pennsylvania that added mileage but cut out some of the stress.

You can eliminate some of that distance by taking a ferry across the Bay of Fundy.  I decided to shoot for the very last sailing of the year. At noon on the 31st, when my wife and daughter were heading into Halifax for an evening of celebration, I poured antifreeze into toilets and drained a hot water tank.  I had just enough time to drive to Digby and catch the 4:30 sailing of The Princess of Acadia.  It would not be much of a New Year’s Eve, but it would put me in St John, New Brunswick before bedtime.

I had made only one serious “Down Under” driving blunder since returning to North America. I pulled out of our laneway on automatic pilot, heading out onto Highway One in the wrong lane.  The driver coming my way looked up in alarm, breathing a sigh of relief as I made a quick correction. I would have to remember NOT to do that on the long drive down south.  Americans are quite fussy about their cars and they carry guns.

In the end, the journey down the eastern seaboard was uneventful.  I did manage to get stuck in the sloping parking lot of the motel in St. John.  Fortunately, the Vietnamese owner was well equipped to get hapless drivers back on the highway.  I followed a snowplow for miles in northern Maine,
then a sand truck  when the plow pulled off.  Blizzard conditions and sparse traffic made me a little nervous without snow tires or a cell phone.

By the time I reached Marlboro, Massachusetts I was in the road groove.  The lady at the front desk said  there was a decent Italian restaurant at the local mall.  She neglected to tell me that the mall was huge.  I had to enlist the aid of a mall cop to locate the car.  He was smug on his Segway, zipping around like the Prince of Wheels.  I had made his day by looking lost and asking for help.

American road food has to be among the worst in the world, but the hospitality improved as I headed south. My wife’s route route planning and the GPS managed to keep me on track through New Brunswick and all seven states.  It was chilly when I finally arrived, but I left the real wintry weather up north.  There was a new pantry to stock and a new, old house to turn into a nest, a new triumvirate of cities to explore.

I’m in the heart of tobacco land, the home of Bull Durham.  It’s a whole new ball game.


I probably wouldn’t mention it if we happened to strike up a conversation in the checkout line of a supermarket, but I will admit, if pressed, to being directionally challenged. Perhaps it is an inherited trait. It would be nice to blame somebody, and it occurs to me that one of my ancestors may be at fault. The one who led the covered wagons into the Great Salt Lake. Whoops!

The fact that I was once employed as a location scout in Hollywood land may strike some of you as puzzling, perhaps even perverse. Finding the locations wasn’t difficult; it was finding my way back that was hard. The art director of one show, who seemed to be alternately amused and annoyed by our outings, coined the term dipsy doodle to describe my circuitous navigation. I would approach each address as if I had to circle it a few times to get there. It was my landing pattern.

After each dipsy doodle trip with the director and producer, I would inevitably consult Thomas Brothers, the bible of LA map books, to find the best way of getting the cast and crew to each location without getting lost. Then I would put up signs. Usually, this worked out well. On one memorable occasion, it didn’t. Thomas Brothers showed a bridge which no longer existed. There was a late start to shooting that particular day and tempers were frayed. Surprisingly, I was not fired. Then. I was fired later. Twice.

Considering my history and the challenge of driving on the wrong side of the road in a very spread-out city with frighteningly complex round abouts, it should come as no surprise that the letters GPS impinged upon my brain. It seemed so simple– eyes in the sky. Some little device sitting on the windshield that would show me the route and say– “turn here, now.”

Think of my dismay, then, when I picked up the morning paper and read about a woman stranded in the bush. She was travelling to Peterborough on the south-west coast when her GPS directed her down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Fortunately, she had a phone.

Constable Dance found her in heavy bushland two hours later. She was “visibly distraught.” The only explanation seems to be that it was, in fact, the most direct route. The constable suggested that if she wanted to keep her GPS, she should consider traveling by tractor or motorbike rather than a Toyota Corolla.

Despite the warning, I succumbed. I made my way down to “Johnny Appleseed” on St. Kilda road and spent a half hour being seduced by the idea of actually driving somewhere in Melbourne without having to worry about getting lost. And it’s amazing. It works! Even when I blow it, the Garmin happily recalculates and sets me on my way once again.

It even seems to learn. When I deliberately chose a different way home rather than the shortest route, the Nuvi only tried to steer me the other way once. The next time it seemed to accept that I must have some reason to take the scenic route.

There is no hint of sarcasm in the modulated, female voice. She remains calm and patient and helpful, even when she is hastily recalculating after the operator has made another egregious error.  Now, if only she could drive.

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