Friday, December 14, 2007

My Dad Would Have Stopped for Directions Sooner

I grew up outside of Philadelphia. While Philadelphia is not exactly in the snow belt, we are no stranger to the winter storm. Every winter, there would be a few big snowfalls. While our parents taught us how to drive in the snow, the typical response to such a storm was "Just stay off the roads". Schools would be closed, Dad would go into work late, and there really wasn't much to worry about since the roads would be clear in about 24 hours and it would be a good few weeks before the next big storm.

When I moved to Edmonton, I soon learned that this approach would not be appropriate. By Halloween it was -20 degrees Celsius with a foot of snow on the ground. There really wasn't much plowing done- the natives told me this was because though Edmonton received vast drifting volumes of the white stuff, it was "Friendly Snow", which I could only imagine was some sort of socialist snow that always said please and thank you.

And so that first winter in Alberta, I learned this: If you don't figure out how to get around in the snow, you won't be going anywhere for a long time. So you buy some serious boots and a serious hat and you never lose you gloves and you plug in your car and you get over it. There is no use commenting on the snow piling up outside the office window, because it ain't like you are going to be allowed to leave early. Kids go to school, trick or treat and show up for cub scouts during blizzards that would have had my family sitting around the fireplace in our pajamas for days.

After the birth of Panorama, I saw that this axiom applied to children as well. If I didn't figure out how to transport one squealing little person from point A to point B, I would never have a reason to put on makeup. Or to bathe for that matter. With the arrival of Prospector, the lesson was driven home even further. With Panorama, it was nice to get out of the house once in awhile and do some shopping or eat a meal. With Prospector, it has become a necessity. Pannie has to be driven to her samba lessons and her metal shop class. She would notice if we never went to the beach anymore or ask why she hasn't seen her Grandmother in a few years.

With Panorama, I hated my giant stroller and never took it anywhere. Or, mostly, I didn't take it because I had to completely dismantle it in order for it to fit in the trunk of my Toyota Echo. I looked on in disgust as other mothers pushed land yachts around the mall knocking over clothing stands as they balanced their lattes and razers in the cupholder-organizer trays. I wore birkenstocks and carried Pannie in a sling and knew that the pain in my shoulder was not really pain but the pride of doing parenting right.

This time, it's a little different.

Once Mr. Probert went back to work and the hordes of relatives scattered back to distant lands, it was just Me and Them. A pouty, sassy three year old with nap-denial and seemingly random potty requirements and a writhing, red-faced, screaming, nocturnal and super sized newborn who seemed to have read the "Book of Baby Panorama" and decided to do everything TOTALLY OPPOSITE of what she did just to keep me guessing and my mind sharp. Better than Soduku.

So I bought a serious mini-van with a serious DVD player. I keep the rear seats stowed so that I can wheel my stroller into the back of the van without even folding it let alone dismantling it. I'm not ashamed to plow through the mall with it now, in fact, I'd love to add on to it with a sidecar or maybe a dorm fridge. I've stopped packing suitcases (to much trouble) and now I just put all of our clothes and gear into a few laundry baskets.

So when Mr. Probert had some work in D.C. this week, I said "Count Us In!" and packed up the posse for some fun at the National Zoo.

D.C. and I have an arrangement. I refuse to use GPS or look at a map, and in return, it always allows me to wind up where I need to be. Eventually. I actually love driving in D.C. After my first experience of getting lost and almost causing a 10 car pile up around DuPont circle, I started chalking up my steering wheel and leaving really early. The streets of D.C. sing a Siren's Song of Alphabet, State Names and Numbers that lull you into a dreamlike state and you start believing that there is a structured grid system for the roads. Combine that with the spun sugar cherry blossoms, the sidewalk cafes and the charming Georgetown architecture and you're in such a haze don't even care that your gauge is below empty and not only are there no gas stations but no place to stop, period.

I've never driven around D.C. with kids in the car, but such a thought didn't cross my mind as I took a cursory glance at Google maps in the hotel before leaving. I actually said to Mr. Probert "30 minutes to go 13.8 miles? Whatever." I get everyone buckled in and shove off.

If purgatory is a place on Earth, it's where US-50 turns into New York Avenue. One minute you are cruising along a perfectly attractive limited access highway... then you are slamming on the brakes into a brick wall of jersey barriers, all day traffic and no left turns. Since I didn't think to jot down the directions, I couldn't remember if I was supposed to make a right turn or a left turn on Florida Avenue. When I get to Florida Avenue, I notice that you can't turn left, therefore the directions must have said turn right but I realize this in the middle of the intersection and hang a sharp left into a McDonald's parking lot where I manage to get back on New York Avenue going the opposite direction with no U-Turns in sight.

At this moment, Prospector decides that he didn't get enough at the all you can eat breakfast buffet and begins WAILING. So I make my next possible right turn into a bank parking lot, stop the car and feed him. As I am feeding him, I notice that we don't seem to be in a "bad" neighborhood... but it's some sort of Import Warehouse district. Then, a few police cars pull up. About 12 officers get out, put on reflective vests that say "POLICE" and huddle up into some sort of conference. I watch enough of the Closer to know that they'd be wearing vests, helmets and shields if some sort of shakedown was in effect, and I feel confident knowing I am probably in the safest place in all of the DC Metro Area since every cop in the city is right here.

I finish feeding him, strap him in and take off for another shot at Florida Avenue. Florida turns into U. No problems so far. The zoo is on Connecticut Ave. I pass Vermot. New Hampshire. Massachusetts, Rhode Island. I MUST be getting close- I'm in New England After all. Then I miss a turn, wind up back on Florida and begin my ritual "hunt for a way back". I apply Philadelphia logic "If this road is one way this way, the next will be one way the other way, and I can just make a square..." then SWOOSH, I somehow slingshot through a traffic circle, change lanes to avoid a kamikaze Metrobus and start passing California, Wyoming, Ontario... Now I'm not even in the right country.

Turning mistakes in D.C. are cumulative and you can almost hear the sound effects of a pinball machine as you drive. Ping! DuPont Circle! Slam! Logan Circle. Zonk! Mount Vernon Square. Blam! Road closings for some sort of March for a Cause. Game Over! Each circle with a park or center feature so attractive it seems like it was put there on purpose to distract you from the microscopic road signs, pedestrians licking ice cream cones and "right turn only" pavement markings that forcibly direct you into a mire of alphabet soup and "NW" avenues vs. "SW" streets. "Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!"


I wind up on the wrong side of the Rock Creek. Or maybe the Potomac.


Pannie has long since given up asking when we will be there to see the Pandas and she is looking a bit green from all of the spinning. "Mommy, why does the car feel like it just tipped over?" "Remember, Pannie, a U-Turn is only illegal when there is a sign that says so." I seek out the minivan compass for advice but it returns only a Sad Mac. Desperate for some solution, I trust my inner GIS and get myself back over whichever body of water I crossed and begin looking for a gas station or a starbucks or a paralell parking spot where I can front-in (not very good at parking this monster yet) and just as I am about to give up, Pannie screams "I SEE Z-O-O".

So Google Maps needs to revise their time estimate to from 30 minutes to 74 minutes. And someone needs to get me a car GPS for Christmas.

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Anonymous said...

OMG, your story made me laugh so hard that I'm still crying! I remember the first time my wife and I took our three (3) youngs kids to the zoo in Seattle and a similar situation occurred. Albeit, traffic in Seattle isn't quite the nightmare it appears to be in DC, nevertheless, by the time all was said and done, I would've rather been getting an underwater enema than going to the zoo! Thanks for the laugh!

Larry E. Ramey said...

LOL!!!! Everything you wrote is so true.

"Opps... I've made a mistake... Opps, I've made another. OMG, I'm on the Rock Creek! OH HELL! I'm in Senator Country! GAH!!! I'm in Maryland! Oh look.... London!"

I used to live in N.VA.

Here is rule #1..


Rule 2?


Seriously... there is a good metro. Take it.