Travels with Google Navigate

I will give Google Navigate this much. It told me, when I left Philcon that it would take two hours and fifteen minutes to get home, and it took me two hours and ten minutes.

After the insanity that was the trip from York to Cherry Hill on Friday (where it told me it would take about two hours and ten minutes, and then it took three and a half hours) because I didn’t listen to it less than five minutes from my apartment (it wanted me to go south into Maryland instead of north to the Turnpike when it had originally wanted me to go to the Turnpike), I decided I would listen to it, no questions asked.

So when it wanted me to go into Camden, pick up 676 east, away from Philadelphia and home beyond, and then 295 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I didn’t question it. “Google knows best,” I said.

I should mention, by the way, that there were gale-force winds in New Jersey. Like, forty or fifty mile per hour gusts. And the Beetle doesn’t handle very well in the wind. (Neither did my old Beetle.) Its near-flat sidewalls are like giant sails, and the wind can shove that car, even thought it weighs something like 3,500 pounds.

Let’s just say that the Delaware Memorial Bridge was fantastic in the winds. I was gripping my steering wheel with white-knuckle force — both hands! I normally drive one-handed — and chanting, “Oh, fuck, oh, fuck, oh fuck,” as I climbed the Jersey side of the bridge, crested, and started down the Delaware side.

The toll taker at the bottom of the bridge at the Delaware border crossing was tremendously cute, by the way.

Into Maryland Google sent me. I had an idea of what Google wanted to do. “Perryville, and then somehow over to 222, and then to Lancaster and home,” I thought. That seemed sensible.

Oh, how naive I was!

Past Perryville I went, and that meant going across the Susquehanna bridge.

Did I mention the gale-force winds?

There is nothing more terrifying that to feel your car move two feet to the left when you’re a couple hundred of feet in the air.

And I was in the middle lane! I’m not stupid. There’s no way that I was getting in the outer lane, the one closest to the retaining wall and the river below. No one was in that lane. Traffic slowed to about fifty miles an hour across the bridge…

…then some dumbass in a sports car shot past me in the outmost lane.

I think I started breathing again on the southern bank of the Susquehanna.

Google had me exit 95 in Havre de Grace, and at this point I had no idea where I was heading. Obviously, I was somehow crossing through Maryland into southern York county and that would get me home. My working supposition was that I would hit a road that would, in Pennsylvania, become PA-24, the road I take from Red Lion up to the York Galleria area.

I changed roads in Maryland three or four times. I drove through farmland and a small town, and that was before I crossed US 1. On the other side, I was in hill country, and then somehow I found myself crossing a bridge across a lake in the middle of a gorge where there were homes along the canyon walls on both sides, and each house had a pier.

The quality of the road changed as I entered Pennsylvania. Maryland’s road was recently paved and smooth. Pennsylvania’s road had been paved long ago and it was bumpy.

This was farm country. It was hilly, and sometimes when I crested a hill I could see for twenty or thirty miles. There were ominous clouds in the distance. I wasn’t far from home, no more than twenty miles, but I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Just as Frodo and the Hobbits had no choice but to trust Aragorn as he led them in to the wilderness after Bree, I had no choice but to trust Google Navigate.

I turned onto a forlorn road called Paper Mill Road where the speed limit was 15. It was a strange road, unmarked and very nearly a single lane, that switched back down one side of a cliff, and at the bottom there was a two lane bridge, built no more than five feet off the stream, that was at a 90 degree angle from the direction I had come, and and on the other side the switchbacks up the opposite side resumed.

Eventually, this put me on Pennsylvania 74. I know it as Main Street in Dallastown and Queen Street closer to and in York, but here it took me through farm country and a town named Brogue. This was also Amish country, as there were horses and buggies out on this blustery and chill day.

It wasn’t until 74 that I had any idea where I was. I crossed 372 at one point — fifteen years ago, after college, I lived on 372 in Chester County, where it’s known as Lower Valley Road and there are Amish farms — and I was to Red Lion before too long. Soon I saw the water tower near my apartment, and my long journey through the backcountry of York County was near its end.

The wind never abated. Even as I write this, there are powerful gusts of blustery winds in Yoe, and the twilight skies are filled with dark and menacing clouds.

It was, all things considered, a lovely drive, even allowing for the strange roads I traversed. I drove through some gorgeous country, and there were some impressive vistas. Had there been anywhere safe to stop — or even pull off the roads — I would have stopped and taken pictures.

I can even say that, until half a mile from my apartment, my trip to Cherry Hill did not overlap in any way with my trip from Cherry Hill.

But I never, ever want to drive that way from Philadelphia again.

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