First, a little background…
I’m not a confident driver. As a lad I didn’t clamor for The Car. I didn’t get my driver license until I was nearing fifty and really hated freeway driving. There are certain skills one learns by getting a license at a young age, one of the primary ones being the understanding of how freeways work.
…but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
After Barney Steel’s closed I was extremely fortunate to get picked up by a civil engineering company as a computer tech trainee. The pay wasn’t much for starters but it was a job. A job often taken by younger folk but a job that blessedly had fallen my way. It eventually blossomed into the best job I ever had but that’s another story.
I was pretty plain about my aversion to driving during my job interview but the guy who ended up being my boss had taken a liking to me and turned a blind eye to that.
But of course, as must happen, it eventually fell for me to go to one of the other offices to make a delivery/pickup. The actual errand was a simple two way delivery from one office to the other. We headquartered in Redwood City; the office in question was in Walnut Creek. A distance of about thirty miles “as the crow flies” or fifty miles by ground transport.
I had never been to Walnut Creek in my life.
Derrick, my boss, knew that day would come when I would have to make this run so he had me ride along while he made the trip one day. I sat in the passenger seat with pen and clipboard, making notes as to which exit signs to look for next, with special notations if they were Left Access exits (two were) and there were a couple spots that merged left rather suddenly so I made note of that too. There was even one near hairpin turn to switch from one freeway to another. I had to contend with the San Mateo Bridge while I was at it which required its own little clues and cues.
All these things I put in my computer and printed them out as a personal set of directions, making the type really legible. What I ended up with was a very nice double sided piece of paper which had Boldface lists of the crucial entry/exit signs in sequence to guide this intrepid traveler on his future missions, guaranteeing a safe return.
Both Derrick and I had some misgivings knowing my trepidation about the eventual moment of truth yet, on the other hand, how hard can it be? People go from Redwood City to Walnut Creek every day and never end up in the mental trauma wards.
And we all know I haven’t driven the freeway in maybe three years…but, hey, it’s like riding a bike, right?
Welllll… Lo, it had come to pass that a Walnut Creek delivery and pickup of equipment was needed. It was my turn. There was no one else free to do it.
The company provided the vehicle and a gas card. I was assigned a nice little Buick. I took my time to set my mirrors and seats familiarizing myself with the dash, wipers, etc.like a pilot doing pre-flight preps. After a short Bunny Hop comedy getting used to the brakes, I went off to the gas station to get gas. Not being familiar as to which side of the car the gas tank cap was on I provided some impromptu entertainment to the station attendant as I circled the pumps looking for the best way to gas the buggy. To add to that bit of comedy, the company credit card refused to work. But I got it together without breaking down in tears and, Guide Sheet in hand, off I went!
As I approached the San Mateo Bridge I realized that the HEATER is on! Whoever had borrowed the car before me had apparently felt a chill so they had cranked up the heater. I dasn’t fumble with it at highway speeds so I put up with it. Radio booming! Heater on! Every window open, I’m off to Walnut Creek.
Things are actually going along pretty well if warmly so. There was a little excitement when I almost get squeezed into a sidewall by a semi. Still, outside of having some hostile fellow drivers not being fans of my Granny way of driving, it went pretty smoothly.
Until I get to the next to the last exit to Walnut Creek.
Called the Sacramento-San Jose Exit.
I flinched. I had a fleeting doubt in my carefully crafted Guide Sheet, (This lack of faith was an error) Long story short, I missed my exit.
Thar I wuz.
Not only did I miss my exit, I now had absolutely no clue where I was or how to get back on course!
It seemed like I went about three miles up the road before I got to where I could find an exit ramp to get off the freeway. I found myself in a large, apparently uninhabited urban development-in-progress. It had an eerie Twilight Zone feel about it. Like a movie set or a film where all the inhabitants were Taken by some evil. I had to drive awhile to find some place that had actually had people in it so I might seek guidance but find them I did. The people were quite normal, no Rod Serling narrating in the background. They were eager to help and gave me directions to Walnut Creek that of course put me on a slightly different angle and a different freeway altogether which means my prized Guide Sheet is now worthless!
At least I got to turn off that damn heater once I actually stopped and parked the car.
Getting back on the freeway I was confronted with a “Walnut Creek North/Walnut Creek South” option that the helpful guides “forgot” to mention in their directions. I gambled on the northbound option and went what seemed like forever, wondering if I’m going too far in the wrong direction.
No! There’s Walnut Creek!
The heavens opened! The angels sang! Walnut Creek is a real place after all, Toto!
Now to find the Office. I had no address. I didn’t need it because if my little Guide Sheet had been adhered to I would have been deposited right at the door.
But I’m resourceful; I find a pay phone and call them. Get directions. Follow said directions. Ended up in a residential cul-de-sac.
Back to civilization to find another pay phone
Call ‘em. Get directions again. Throughout all this of course, is the factor that if I leave the car to seek directions or use the phone, the car instantly camouflages itself, hiding in plain sight, so it’ll take me another ten minutes trying to figure out where I parked it …
I finally get back on Main Street in Walnut Creek. I knew the office is on a short road abutting Main Street. I stop off to ask directions again. I asked the Walnut Creek guy if there was a landmark that indicated where I had to make my final turn. There was! I asked a local resident where this landmark to my final turn is. “Get back on 680…”
I need Main Street, not 680 for to get reoriented. “Isn’t this Main Street?’” (It was. You could see the green white street sign)
“No” he said.
I thanked him and edged away from that dude and tried another local guide.
All quests must end; this one did, too. I finally got to my destination, picked up and completed my errand which, in itself, only took about twenty minutes and trekked home, this time slavishly obeying my Guide Sheet. The home route fell into place perfectly. The best thing about it was that on that day traffic flowed smoothly. Absolutely no lags or slowdowns.
But I think the guide sheet was forevermore cursed. Karmic punishment for having doubted it meant I never had a totally easy run to Walnut Creek ever after. There would always be some irritant in following the directions. Once I even ended up in Oakland! How that happened I’ll never know but I am eternally grateful to one of the residents there taking pity on me telling me to follow him and he would get me back on the freeway. A true Samaritan, he gave me accurate directions of how to get back on the San Mateo Bridge route and home.
The subsequent runs were never quite as long as that first one.
What took one of the regular guys to make the run and do a short errand while there and come back usually took a little over two hours.
Four, nearly five hours. No halfway measures for me!