Sunday, September 09, 2012

Dwight The Lady GPS takes us on a tour of Metropolis (Vacations)

Continuing the story of my [not so] recent vacation to Florida... read part one, "In Another Universe, I Am In Birmingham, Alabama, For Some Reason," by clicking here
or part two,
"Why Would Anyone Want To Drive Through Illinois?" by clicking here
Or part three, "
We Are READY TO GO. Well, almost", by clicking here.
Or part four, "Sometimes, a house" by clicking here

Or part five: "Superman and the Albino Squirrels vs. The Dentist" here.

Our original plan was shot to heck: we were not going to be able to get into Metropolis, unload the car, and then go see the giant Superman statue and maybe get a bite to eat downtown.

We thought that was because it was nearly 9 o'clock p.m. by the time we hit the town, but also that was because Metropolis is not the kind of place where you would get a bite to eat and/or walk around downtown, mostly because there isn't a downtown to speak of.

Or a town.

We got off the freeway at 9 or so, expecting that we would be in Metropolis, but that's never the case, is it? Unless it's a big city, the highway never goes right through it, and so when you get off the expressway you have to travel through countryside for a while before you get to the place you are going -- the place with all the sights you are there to see on vacation, because the roads no longer go directly past those sights.

Metropolis, Illinois, is about three miles off the highway, but it feels more like 20 when you are tired and it is darkening -- the longest day of the year had just happened and so we were not entirely in the night even at 9 p.m. yet -- and you don't really know where you are but you know you have to stop sometime and sleep.  The entrance to the town is heralded by a large sign that I was never able to take a picture of even though I very much wanted to because I like to take pictures, but in this case I didn't take pictures because of both momentum and crowds.

Crowds, in this case, Sweetie and The Boy (Mr F and Mr Bunches wouldn't have gotten to vote and wouldn't have voted against me in any case) keep me from stopping and taking pictures of things because they inhibit my decision to do so on the basis that I imagine this will happen:

CROWDS:  Why are we stopping?

ME: I want to take a picture.

CROWDS: Of what?

ME:  [gesturing vaguely] That.


ME: That [sign, tree, interesting view, bridge, tower, building, thing].

When I say CROWDS instead of "Sweetie and The Boy," I mean that this effect applies to me whenever there are people around, period, or even if I imagine people.  The impact of having people, even imaginary people, see me doing something creative (even something as uncreatively creative as taking a picture) has a freezing effect on me, making me decide that the thing I thought I was creating isn't worth it after all.

This happens with everything including homemade pizza that I cook: If someone is even theoretically looking over my shoulder, I begin to second-guess myself and freeze up no matter what I am doing.  Let me give you a real-life example that, also, draws on vacations:

Once, Sweetie and I went on a brief long-weekend trip to Washington D.C., a trip that is in itself a whole different story in that we nearly starved to death, but that's for another day.  What is important for this sidetracked story in this vacation story is that we flew, and when we flew we flew out of a Chicago airport where our flight was delayed significantly so we had to eat dinner in the airport, and I got some pizza from a little shop that advertised that it had "Butter Crust."

Here is something you may not have already guessed about me but probably already did:  When I am suddenly made aware that a thing exists which includes things that I like, I go through a rapid evolution of desire that goes like this:

1. Learn of thing's existence:

"Hey, there's something called a butter crust pizza."

2. Decide thing is stupid.


3. Immediately lock thing into frontal lobe as the only possible subject for all 1,000,000 brain cells to work on:


4. Using a mental effort that would have been remarkably helpful on, say, someone's SAT tests, work through every possible permutation of said thing and determinate how many truly are gross.

"I like butter. And I like pizza.  And toast has butter, and I like toast.  Could this crust taste like toast with pizza?"

5. Decide for one split second that I want toast.

"I want toast."

6.  Focus.

"Buttercrust pizza?"

7.  Decide I want that thing more than any other thing I have ever wanted in my life.


 The process usually takes only about a millisecond, although sometimes I am distracted by people around me and so it takes longer and when that happens I might already be on the road again or in bed or on the plane, at which point I will be hit with a profound sense of regret that I might never get to try the new Pretzel M&Ms, and will sob silently inside while cursing the gods.  So I've learned to tune others out when this happens in order to avoid that.  You know what the old saying is: Nobody on their death beds ever regretted eating a McGriddle, unless that is what killed them.

I got the buttercrust pizza that time, and it was delicious, and since that time, I have, when the mood strikes me, tried to make a buttercrust pizza, because we do not have those pizza places around here and I can't always be flying to Washington, D.C., everytime I want to have some, especially because "when I want to have some pizza" = ALWAYS, so since I am an accomplished homemade pizza chef (also I have cooked bread, cookies, and once invented candy cane ice cream and made it)(and I made chocolate chip-banana ice cream)(it was delicious) I have from time to time tried to figure out how they made a butter crust, something I could probably do easily if I just looked up how to make it on the Internet, but that's not really the point.

 That is, it's not the whole point: It's part of it.  I could easily look up how to make a butter crust pizza and would do so but some part of me wants to create it myself, to figure out how it's done, to do that one little thing for myself instead of having civilization do it for me.  I'm perfectly content having my cereal come in a box and my milk in a carton and my cheeseburgers in a paper wrapping handed to me through a window: I love modern life and the fact that I have to do so little for myself that I am essentially coasting, a state of existence that has only really been possible for humans in the last 10 years or so, when even knowledge stopped requiring effort and started requiring only Google -- but the tiny feral part of me that knows that civilization could collapse, the part that makes me watch things like The Day After or read books like Lucifer's Hammer, that part of me wants to be able to do something on my own, and so occasionally I will do that, and this is one of those things.

A shorter way to put that? If there is an apocalypse, and I survive, at that big meeting where everyone gets together to rebuild society and some of the guys get to run the Survivor's Council and others have to go out and become monster bait, I will be hinging all of my hopes for a (relatively speaking) cushy life on "I know how to make a buttery-flavored pizza crust."

Only I haven't done that yet, and the point of this story if there is one is that one time when I was making an attempt at making that pizza, Sweetie walked in and said "What are you making?" and I hesitated and said "I'm trying to make a butter crust pizza," and she said, and I quote, "Oh." and suddenly the whole thing seemed silly, you know?

When we pulled into Metropolis, and I saw the sign advertising it as the home of the Giant Superman statue, I thought about stopping to take a picture of it, but that Oh feeling, and momentum -- we were in a car, we were moving, and Newton's laws of something or other say that we want to continue that, so even I am loathe to stop a moving car to take a picture -- kept me rolling forward into the city, and so I said 

"Remind me to stop and take a picture of that tomorrow?"

To which Sweetie responded: "Picture of what?"

I said: "That sign?"

She said: "Why?"


There wasn't much to Metropolis, but that didn't stop our GPS thing on our phone from making us see as much of it as possible.  It would not be until the next morning that we learned that Metropolis is essentially one street, with that street being empty every time we drove on it, and that street happens to lead directly to the riverside casino in town, and that casino happened to be right next to our hotel, but, again, we didn't learn that Saturday night, because our GPS, which ordinarily has a strong preference for making us drive on highways, for some reason wanted us that night to drive through people's yards, more or less.

The GPS program on my phone always prefers highways; I think it might be channeling Dwight Eisenhower's spirit to guide us, and I think that because I'm 94% sure that Eisenhower invented the highway, and I figure he would be proud of them and make us drive on them, so that's how that works, whereas if the GPS was haunted by the spirit of Jack Kerouac, say, we would always be traveling things like Route 66, and now I see that I've invented a whole new idea here: GPS personalities: Program your GPS for certain traits, like, say, a guy who wants to stop at all the roadside attractions, or the Dad who wants to push his car a little further even though the gaslight is on, or maybe "Wilderness Avenger," so you would only be directed to little grassy trails.

I'm going to be a billionaire.

Our GPS -- Dwight, even though it has a woman's voice -- loves highways, loves them so much that when I use it at home in Madison, which I do so often that it would be embarrassing to admit given that I have lived in Madison for 17 years but I don't care because I'm far to busy gauging whether I might like things ("breakfastburritobreakfastburritobreakfastburrito") to bother with learning where things are and remembering that when Dwight The GPS will do it for me, when I use Dwight in Madison, it will send me on to Highway 12 no matter what.  Highway 12 is the highway that circles the city and yes, you can get to every point in the city from that highway, but you can also get to those places from city roads where you would see the city, but that doesn't matter to Dwight.

In Metropolis, Dwight The GPS was confused perhaps by the utter lack of highway-ish roads, and so Dwight did not have us drive straight down the only real street of any importance in the city, directly to our hotel.

"Turn left," Dwight the GPS directed us as soon as we reached the outskirts of the city, and then a right, and then some lefts, and pretty soon we were traveling on a road that was only wider than our car by about a foot or so, through a neighborhood that in the dark began to seem sinister and creepy: little dark houses with large trees around them and cars parked on the lawn that may have been parked there because the roads were so narrow but for all we knew they were parked there because that's where the people ran out of gas when the ghost mutants were chasing them.

The neighborhood we were in, to be fair, was probably just poor, but that doesn't mean that 43 years of watching horror movies didn't factor into how we felt about the increasingly-mazelike roads surrounded by what seemed to be increasingly-dark and increasingly-dilapidated houses; a trip through an unknown, weird-looking dark neighborhood is alwaysthe way those ghost mutant attacks begin, and maybe it was our pop culturization or maybe we were just road-weary and convenience-store snack-food tired, but finally Sweetie said "This is creepy," and we all sighed with relief because we'd all been thinking that, probably even Mr F, but someone had to say it. 

That didn't help us get out of there, though, and as visions of how the newspapers would report our disappearance (MISSING FAMILY'S CAR FOUND IN YARD IN METROPOLIS; CONTAINED PLAY-DOH SET AND 1,000 BAGS OF CHEESE PUFFS; AUTHORITIES ARE BAFFLED) I began to doubt Dwight The GPS, but then suddenly she told us to turn right and your destination will be on your right, and she was correct: we turned right, and saw our hotel at the end of a long frontage road along the river, silhouetted against the backdrop of an old bridge which itself was starkly contrasted with the glow of stars and the moon.

"Remind me to take a picture of that when we stop," I told Sweetie.

"Why?" she asked.

NEXT TIME: Welcome To The Hotel California!  We won't leave the light on for ya! (But we will have a creepy man carrying a dog.)

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

Wait, I live in CA. How did you get my hotel?
I think that's a surprisingly good idea with the GPS thing; you should do something about that before someone else uses it.