Following our map to the middle of nowhere
by Margaret Tearman
I love road maps. They promise adventures to places I’ve never been on roads I’ve never traveled.
I have a pile of maps. Many are worn and outdated, but I think they’re better than photo albums. They are souvenirs of my life: Roads taken are highlighted by a neon marker, and scribbled notes remind me of those I missed.
I must have inherited this map-love from my dad because the only map Mom ever read was in the shopping mall, the one that said You Are Here. She had a great sense of direction, as long as her destination was air-conditioned and posted reduced for quick sale.
But Dad and I believed nothing could top a good map and a working automobile, and we celebrated this shared love each year on my birthday. His gift to me was always the same: a crisp new Southern California road map and an entire day for exploration.
We’d get up early. The map would be unfolded with a reverence appropriate to the occasion. Cereal bowls in hand, together we would map out the day’s journey.
My birthday breakfast served possibilities of discovering wild and remote places with names like Cucamonga and Lone Pine.
The way to these exotic locales was never, ever via an interstate highway. That would be just plain wrong. The only routes we’d consider were the ones depicted by little blue dashes marking local and randomly paved roads.
One particular birthday stands out above all others.
Path chosen, we packed lunch and my reluctant mother into our old white Volvo station wagon. Dubbed the Great White Road Warrior, it didn’t have power steering or automatic transmission. My dad was the only one in the family who would drive it.
It was battered and totally uncool. But it worked. Usually.
We were headed somewhere south of Palm Springs. Of course we weren’t getting there on I-10, the interstate around the Santa Rosa Mountains. Our course took us over the mountains.
We left the four lane. Then the two lane. Then the pavement.
In the back seat, Mom fretted about getting lost. Or even worse: automotive failure in the middle of nowhere.
Relax we told her. Enjoy the scenery.
The dirt road wound through canyons and across dry creek beds, taking us from sage to pine. When we reached the inevitable unmarked fork in the road, our favorite conversation ensued: Which way? Left or right? Look at the map. We should go right. No, go left.
My mother’s fretting escalated.
Do you have any idea where we’re going? What if we break down? Nobody will ever find us. We are in the middle of nowhere.
Hours later we crested a ridge and the desert stretched out before us. We had made it at least halfway.
The Great White Road Warrior carried us down the mountain, toward the highway and rest areas with plumbing.
Until, without warning, the old wagon shuddered to a stop, 50 yards short of the asphalt.
My mother let loose with uncharacteristically bad language punctuated frequently with I told you so. We are stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Nonsense said my father, waving down a passing car.
Next town? Just up the road, hop in.
Dad soon returned with a tow truck, and the Great White Road Warrior was unceremoniously towed to a service station where the busted fan belt was replaced.
And we were on the road again.
We hummed down the paved four-lane highway, headed for home. My mother slept, exhausted from cheating death in the middle of nowhere.
Dad turned to me, eyes twinkling, and noted it didn’t take long to get over the mountains. Heck, we still had a few hours of daylight left.
With a glance in the rearview mirror to verify mom was still asleep, he grinned and said Let’s have another look at that map.