Last year about this time I took a solo road trip to Washington, DC to pick up Bekah from her first year at George Washington University (its official name is "The George Washington University," but I steadfastly refuse). At least it was a solo trip down, by way of the Brandywine Museum, and a duet trip back with Bekah and all her stuff.
Even during the solo part of the trip I was supported and assisted by "GPS Lady" borrowed from a friend of ours. She told me how far to go and when to turn. I talked back, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes disagreeing with her and going my own way, sometimes getting lost and begging her for mercy and forgiveness.
"Recalculating," was her usual reply. I suppose I only inferred exasperation in her "voice" when she was recalculating for the twenty-fifth time.
This year David and I made the trip together, bookending two days in DC with a day driving down and another driving back, with Bekah and all her stuff. We took our larger car in order to accommodate three people rather than two, and even still we needed my brother Jon's highly honed packing skills (he is an engineer, after all, and the father of a college graduate whose stuff he has packed and moved many times) in order to fit it all in and still have any rear view.
On Sunday, which was Mother's Day, David, Bekah, and I went to church at the Washington National Cathedral, where James Forbes happened to be the guest preacher, then to brunch in Georgetown, then on to the National Gallery for a lovely, even if slightly hurried amble through the Chester Dale Collection of 19th and 20th century art, ending up in the tower of the East Wing with several black or nearly black paintings by Mark Rothko, accompanied by a recording of music composed for the Rothko Chapel in Houston. It was another world.
At one point as we walked across the Mall, we passed a man carrying a sign and pamphlets asserting the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world on July 21, 2011 (or something like that--it was a specific day in July next year). I said "No thanks" when he offered me a pamphlet.
Bekah said, "I wonder what he'll do next year when that day rolls around and nothing happens."
"He'll do what GPS Lady does," I replied not missing a beat, mimicking her intonation: "Recalculating."
On the way home to Maine, while Bekah mostly slept, David and I discovered that it was possible to put GPS Lady on a different mode, a quieter one, more to our liking. She could be a moving map, displaying the road we were on and others in its vicinity, along with special features like rivers and bridges. In the lower right corner she showed us what compass direction we were heading, and in the other the current time. Often across the top of her small display screen would be the name or route number of the highway we were on and the identity of junctions up ahead.
At one point I looked at the top of her screen and saw simply the words: "Road Ahead." And in the image was simply a car (that would be us) on a road going straight.
And I thought, "Perfect! I like that."
Sometimes all I need to know is that there's a road ahead, and that I am on it.