My latest for the Door County Advocate …
Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, Siri sent me on quite a wild ride, which I may adapt into a horror short story someday.
A flight to New Jersey, land where I was born long before I found my real home in Wisconsin, takes about two hours. But I prefer to make the two-day drive so that I can see the countryside and have a chance to decompress before I see dear old Dad and my brothers and ancient friends.
Most of the time I am thrilled to make the drive. I even add more than two hours to the itinerary by taking the route through the Upper Peninsula and over the Mackinac Bridge, one of the most amazing manmade wonders of the world.
This time around I encountered some bumps in the road. Twice on Sunday afternoon, traffic on Interstate 80 in eastern Ohio stopped in construction zones – stopped, I tell ya. Cars and trucks going zero mph on an interstate highway. It’s a little eerie.
After entering Pennsylvania about 100 miles from my hotel, I set my iPhone and the Maps app to guide me to the place. Almost immediately Siri told me to take the next exit. I knew that was wrong and ignored her advice.
“Take this exit,” Siri insisted. I drove past and she corrected herself to “Proceed 90 miles on Interstate 80.” That’s better. Or was it?
A few miles later a police officer with flashing lights waved to the traffic to slow down. Sure enough, I crested a hill to encounter a massive traffic jam, which slowed us to a crawl for about two miles and 20 minutes.
About 20 miles from the hotel, Siri said, “Unexpected delays ahead. You might consider taking East Valley Road.” There were only three or four semitrailer trucks within sight for miles around. I kept driving.
Sure enough, about five minutes later traffic stopped on I-80 for the third time that day – except now the sun had set. It was the worst traffic jam of the day.
A few hundred feet and 10 minutes later was a sign that said, “Left lane closed two miles ahead.” A quarter mile and another 10 minutes later came an exit.
Finally the lesson was learned: I decided to trust the app and turned off the interstate. Immediately Siri chirped, “Turn left onto East Valley Road. In 7.9 miles, turn left.”
Left? Wouldn’t that take me the opposite direction? No matter. I put my journey into Siri’s, um, hands.
In the dark I could see it was a beat-up, rural road with a 40 mph speed limit that seemed too fast for safe travel. But it was running parallel to the highway, and then it scooted back under the highway, so a left turn made sense again. Smooth sailing, here we go!
Suddenly a sign on the road said, “Pavement ends.” What? The asphalt disappeared, replaced by a pothole-pocked pavement that once upon a time may have had a dusting of gravel over it. And we proceeded into a very, very dark woods.
Bumping along I passed a darkened house that would be the only structure I’d see for the last four miles of East Valley Road. And shortly after that, I saw a flash of light in my rear-view mirror. There must be someone behind me, I thought, either someone else who’s trusting Siri or – maybe someone more sinister. Or some thing …
It would be easy on the car to drive about 10 mph through those woods. I drove 25 – and the lights behind me kept getting closer.
Just as I was beginning to think 7.9 miles would never come and my body would never be found, Siri said, “In a quarter-mile, turn left, then turn right onto Interstate 80.”
The rest of the trip was routine. I’ve scheduled the return two-day trip for Saturday and Sunday. Maybe I’ll sell the car and fly home.