There's Shortcuts, and then There's Shortcuts

My dear wife and I lay no claim to technological expertise, but we do have a navigation device in our car.  It invariably gets us where we are supposed to be, and it saves me from having to listen to the back seat driver who’s sitting in the passenger seat.  Our device features a nice female voice.  We have named her “Lillian,” in honor and memory of my late mother-in-law, who was very good at giving directions.

The only problem with Lillian is that she doesn’t know shortcuts.  When we are on a journey, she will direct us along main roads, especially Interstates and four-lanes, and for the most part that works well enough.  But occasionally, we enjoy traveling on byways, especially when they save time and aggravation.  Lillian doesn’t understand that.

We were planning a trip to eastern North Carolina recently, and we knew that if we followed Lillian’s directions, we would pass through a town where the main thoroughfare runs past an endless collection of strip shopping centers, all of which have traffic lights.  At the best of times, it is like swimming through molasses.  At peak traffic hours…well, you might as well pack a lunch and maybe even sleeping bags.

My good friend and excellent neighbor Jerry came to the rescue.  He suggested a shortcut that would bypass that traffic-challenged town, saving us a substantial amount of time and mental anguish.  We took his suggestion, and we’re so glad we did.

Jerry’s shortcut was a two-lane rural road that took us through verdant countryside of woods and pastures, comfortable old homes and churches, poultry houses and fields fresh-plowed and ready for planting.  On a warm sun-blessed day, with trees showing the first vivid green of early Spring, it was a comfort to the psyche.  We stopped for lunch at a crossroads café that reminded us of our mothers’ home cooking.  There wasn’t much traffic, but that didn’t really matter.  We were taking our time, resting our souls.  Thank you, Jerry.

Not all shortcuts are created equal.  There is one in particular that stands out in our memory as a shortcut gone bad.  We traveled often when our kids were young from North Carolina to Alabama, and that meant I-85 and I-20.  I always felt as if I were going to battle, facing peril like a man.  So it was with great joy that we received word of a shortcut between Atlanta and the Alabama line, courtesy of a dear lady named Lottie Daugherty, a friend of my mother-in-law.

Next trip to Alabama, we joyfully exited I-20 at the assigned interchange and drifted off into countryside.  And drifted and drifted and drifted.  We saw parts of West Georgia that most Georgians probably never knew existed.  The kids got rowdy with boredom in the back seat, and it seemed that every school bus and farm tractor in that part of the state decided to take our shortcut at that particular time.  We staggered back onto the Interstate an hour later, exhausted and feeble of mind.  We referred to that short cut in later times as the Lottie Daugherty Nature Trail.  We never again set foot on it.

So there’s shortcuts, and then there’s shortcuts.  These days, being a bit more travel-wise, I am wary of them.  I would never take another one suggested by a person named Lottie, lovely as she was.  I only travel those vetted and recommended by good friends like Jerry.  His is a gem.  For everything else, there’s Lillian.