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blind leading the blind when driving to the beach

The Blind Leading the Blind

The phone rang at 8:30 that morning. “Lin, I’m so sorry. My battery’s dead. You’ll have to drive,” my sister said, her voice quivering with distress.

“No worries. I’ll pick you up,” I said, even though I really didn’t want to drive since my cataract surgery was still a week away, and my vision for driving was iffy. Marcia was supposed to pick me up at 9:00. “I can’t make it by nine though,” I said. “I won’t really be ready ‘til then, so maybe 9:20ish?”

“That’s fine. I’ll be ready to bring my stuff down.”

“I’ll come up and help so you won’t have to make two trips.” I hung up and hurried through my back exercises. Stuart helped me load the car, and I was able to leave five minutes earlier, arriving at 9:15.

Marcia lives on the second floor of a condo—12 steps up, then a long hallway and another 12 steps to tackle, a bit of a heart-pumper when you’re 70-something. But try doing it when you’re carrying things!

We were going to the beach to hang out with our sister, Ellie, at the home she and her family had rented at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Our brother, Rick, owns a summer home five minutes from Ellie’s rental. He and his wife, Susan, were there the same week with their son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons. They were all staying a week, but Marcia and I were joining them for just two days.

I had one tote with some change of clothes, my beach bag with bathing stuff, a lunch pail and water bottle. Marcia had her beach stuff, a hat and water plus a rolling suitcase and a cake she baked in a 9×13 glass dish! She brought down the suitcase and hat; I took everything else, working hard to balance that cake. I was huffing and puffing like the wolf who blew down the little pigs’ houses. Marcia wanted to give a key to her neighbor, have a conversation about the neighbor starting her car with cables and I don’t know what all. In any case, we didn’t get under way until 9:35.

On The Road

Once we were loaded and settled, she lamented that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the music she’d prepared for her car when she put in a channel for Sirius XM. “It was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand and lots of others. Ah well,” she said as she produced her manila envelope and removed the Mapquest directions and some “helpful” information from Rick. In addition, I said I would put on my GPS. “Why don’t you turn it on now before we get under way?” my sister suggested. A normal person might wonder why we needed all this. The answer is: the only person I know who has a worse sense of direction than I do is my sister, Marcia. It was the blind leading the blind.

“No, we’re already so late. I’ll do it at a red light.” One should always listen to her big sister. Any other time, I would have got at least half the lights red. Not this time—all green lights before we hit the Baltimore beltway at Greenspring Exit 22. Five minutes later at the Owings Mills Exit 19, traffic was at a standstill. By 9:30 in the morning, traffic should be light. “There must be an accident,” I said, “but this is a good time to set the GPS.” I put in the zip code where Ellie was staying. “Zip code not found,” it declared. I tried putting in the address with the same result.

The Trouble Begins

I had never noticed before that when I turn on my Garmin navigating system, it says “Maryland” big as the Montana sky. “There has to be a way to change this to Delaware,” I said. “Maybe I could call Rick and see if he knows what it is.”

Marcia thought this was a good idea but that we should pull over since traffic was moving a bit by then. She took out her cell and called our brother on his cell. Rick told me to try a few things, which I did, after much difficulty. The reception on the two cells was so garbled. Plus the traffic noise made it even worse. He said, “OK, do this: Put in ‘Mayhem’ which will get you close to Bethany and then maybe Garmin will be able to pick it up.”

“What should I put in?” I asked.

“Daybed” it sounded like. And I repeated that with a question.

“NO! It’s ‘Deathbed’!” he shouted. “ ‘D’ as in David, ‘E’ as in Edward, ‘N’ as in never…” At this point, my GPS suggested “Denton.”

“DENTON?” I hollered, trying to be heard over the static and traffic noise.

“You can’t interrupt me when I’m giving you information! You must listen and be patient!” screamed the least patient person I know. Much of this was garbled, but I got the message.

“I just wanted to tell you that my GPS is suggesting Denton. Is that right?” I screamed back.

“Any time you want me to help you, just tell me when it’s my turn to talk,” he said in his I’m trying to be patient but this person is an idiot voice.

I decided that my responses to him were as garbled as his were to me so I just said “OK.” I put in Denton, which Garmin liked, and ended the call.

It turned out there were actually two accidents. One was at Security Exit 17. Traffic got better for a few miles after that and then stopped again at Edmonson Exit 14. I guess it took us 40 minutes longer than it should have. By the time we got onto I-97, it was about 10:40.

Now What?

As we were approaching I-97, Marcia was telling me, “Get in the right lane. We have to get off here!” Well, she was correct about “getting off” but every highway sign was shouting “Stay left.” When I pointed that out, she said, “Oh yeah, it is left.” So much for my big sister navigator. After that, however, we had no trouble merging onto 301, crossing the Bay Bridge, merging onto Route 50 and finally turning left onto 404. The tricky part was passing the exit to Denton. The hope was that once we were in Delaware, Garmin would recognize it and help us find Ellie’s place. This did not happen. I knew there must be a way to change the state but did not know what it was. I called Ellie to see if she could help.

“Well, mine doesn’t work that way. I’ll ask Steve.” Her husband also could not help with this over the phone. “He said he’d have to see it.”

“Well if I tell you where we are, can you just give me directions?”

“This is the first time we’re staying here, and I don’t know it that well. Call Rick. He can tell you.”

“I am NOT calling him. He yelled at me!”

She laughed. “OK, let me get my directions and check with Steve. In the meantime, just stay on 404 for the next 50 miles or so. The road keeps changing names as you go through small towns, but it’s all 404. I’ll call you after we figure it out.”

Success, Finally

We did exactly that. At some point, we decided to get off the road for a bathroom break—a pretty common thing that travelers do. But (in case you haven’t already figured it out) we are directionally challenged. Neither of us could figure out how to get back on the highway. After driving back and forth across the parking lot, we finally asked a guy who was standing by a half-ton pick-up. You can always count on men who drive trucks. He showed us exactly which exit to use. It was just so easy. He’s probably still laughing.

At almost 2:30 p.m., we finally turned onto Cedar Neck Road. We were supposed to go a half mile and turn onto Ellie’s street. We drove about a mile and never saw the road. After five hours of driving (a trip that everyone else can do in three!), we were weary and brain dead. Again we called Ellie using my phone since Marcia’s battery had finally died. “Where are you?” she asked.

I looked at every sign. “We’re at the VFW. There’s a sign that says:

‘Mason Dixon VFW Post 7234—Private Property—Members and Guests Only’

It’s some kind of park where people must live or rent houses. There’s a road called ‘Harton’ but I don’t think it’s on a map or anything. It’s just a wooden sign that doesn’t look like a regular street sign.” I was close to tears.

“OK, just stay there. You’re really close. We’ll figure it out and come get you.” We waited about ten or so minutes, and there they were. Laughing all the way (and they didn’t even have a sleigh). “It’s so lucky you told me everything on the sign. Steve recognized it. There’s another VFW closer to us but it’s a different type of facility.” We followed them back to their place, and it really was just about five minutes.

We all laughed about our trip as Ellie fed us lunch. The three of us went up to the beach. Ellie drove. (I never touched my car until it was time to leave.) We walked the small boardwalk, went into some shops, bought some ice cream, and then spent the rest of the afternoon visiting Rick and his family at their summer house. My sisters and I had dinner in a restaurant called The Train, then returned to Ellie’s rental to watch the rest of the Olympics.

The following day, we arrived at the beach early and saved a large area for Rick’s brood who came an hour later. I caught some rays, jumped the waves with my nephew, David, and his girlfriend, Natalie, played with my great nephews, laughed with my siblings. It was a lovely day of family bonding. In the evening we had dinner with Ellie, Steve, David and Natalie. Again we had ice cream (It’s what you do at the beach!) and then more Olympics. A restful few days did not completely prepare us for the return trip.

The next morning was a perfect sunny summer day, and the three of us strolled around the complex, chatting about women’s issues, sister stuff and family mishegas. Later Marcia and I packed lunches to go as well as all our stuff, and loaded the car.

We sat at the kitchen table as both Ellie and Steve tried to give us the best directions to return home. Steve did not understand why we wouldn’t ask Rick. But Ellie did. “Oh, I know what you mean about his impatience. When we worked together, he was always losing his temper and hollering about something. I don’t blame you for not asking him,” she sympathized. So, armed with probably too much information, we left. Neither of us was confident that there would be no issues. At least our perceptions were correct.

Oy, More Tsuris

I tried not to be nervous (ha!). Ellie had shown us where to get gas, and we did that first. It wasn’t too difficult to get out of the neighborhood and onto Route 26, which changed its name a couple of times. In the process of going through several routes and their names changing often, we kept getting confused. “Wait!” said Marcia. “I think we just passed Handy Road. You should go back.” I was not sure about this but didn’t want to take any chances, so we went back. It turned out it was a name change on both sides of the street, but I was still glad we stopped to check. My paranoia was really high.

At some point, we were supposed to enter 404, which would eventually take us into Maryland. Well, there were so many signs, so much to read, to decipher, to figure out. I thought I was in the correct lane to enter 404, but Marcia was positive we should turn right. So we did, but we stopped at a small strip mall to ask someone before we ended up in Maine. We chose a furniture store to find a person who could help. At first, we did not see a soul, but then a woman came from the back. “How can I help you?” she asked, hoping for a sale.

“Um, we’re headed to Maryland and were wondering if you—”

“Go to the next traffic light,” she interrupted, in a bored monotone, “and turn left. That street becomes 404.” I repeated the instructions. She nodded and returned to whatever she was doing that we so rudely interrupted.

Marcia and I just looked at each other. When we got in the car, we both burst out laughing. “Ya think she’s answered that question maybe a 100 times in the past?” I said in between my guffaws. I was grateful to her. We really needed that laugh.

We were able to stop for lunch, use the restroom and this time get back on the highway without any issues. The worse problem was that there was some construction before we entered the Bay Bridge, and we had to wait a long time to be waved through. Still, compared to the trip out, this was a minor matter.

After all we went through, here’s what we learned: We are NEVER doing this again. It’s take a bus or stay home!

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Linda Miller.

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