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Friday, August 25, 2017

Destroy Dodge Ram 1500! Destroy Copple Family!

Dodge Ram 1500I use a popular map app on my phone frequently. Most of the time, it does an excellent job of getting me where I need to go. Sometimes, it even helps me to avoid traffic slowdowns due to wrecks and the like. But there are those times when for reasons unknown, the lady telling me where to go sends me into places I don’t want to be. This is the story of one such instance; a somewhat dramatized but factually accurate recounting of when the map app appeared to have been reprogrammed to destroy my truck and trap us in a sticky situation. I suspected Dr. Smith had broken into their company headquarters to get us lost in the plains.

My wife and two sons had traveled with me from Central Texas to Denver, Colorado to visit my daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. I drive these seventeen hour trips each way overnight. This event happened around 5 am just northwest of Amarillo, TX, on our way back home.

Everyone in my Dodge Ram 1500 truck was asleep as I sped down FM 1061, Tascosa Rd., not too far from Amarillo. Except me, of course. I yawned as the center-stripes passed by my truck.

The map-lady blurted out, “Take a slight right onto blah, blah, blah, road.” No, she didn’t actually say “blah, blah, blah.” I don’t recall what name she gave me. Only that when she said it, a farm road with a slight right was quickly descending on me at 65 mph. I wasn’t expecting to turn until I reached Amarillo, but she said to turn and I didn’t want to miss it. I had no time to glance at the screen before I quickly veered onto the road. I trusted the map app because when it wanted to send me on an alternate route, it usually had a good reason. Sometimes, it wouldn’t tell you about a turn until you were right upon it too.

I glanced at my phone mounted on the dash. What I saw looked strange. A solid blue line ran across the bottom of my screen with the arrow pointed sideways on it, in the general direction I was currently headed, as if the road I was on didn’t exist. I was just about to find a place to turn around, figuring I’d misunderstood the lady, when the map refreshed and I was once again following a blue line into the horizon of the map. So I concluded she actually did intend for me to go this way. Still, I felt uneasy about it. Something didn’t seem right.

Whether I was supposed to go that way, or after I had mistakenly turned down the wrong road the map did a reroute, I’ll never know. Either way, unknowingly, I was now headed toward an evil trap. The road I had turned down was FM 2381, which would take me to Interstate 40 just west of Amarillo, through a little town named Bushland. I expected the map app to take me onto IH 40 back towards Amarillo. But no, the evil lady had other plans. She kept me headed down FM 2381 as I passed under the interstate. As the road headed out of Bushland, it narrowed with no shoulders. I had to drive slightly off the right side of the road to pass oncoming traffic. Yeah, one of those types of narrow roads.

I couldn’t imagine why she wanted me to go this route when there was a perfectly good four-lane interstate I could have used. My uneasiness deepened, but I hoped she knew what she was doing. Maybe she knew a good back-road shortcut?

It wasn’t long before I saw on my phone’s screen the blue line turning left onto a road named “Hollywood” not too far ahead. An intersection with a stop sign came into view. It appeared that my left turn would be there. In retrospect, checking the map, that is where I should have turned. It would have led me back to the southwest side of Amarillo. However, the Dr. Smith programing kicked in.

I stopped at the intersection. The only street sign read, “FM 2186.” No indication that this was Hollywood Rd. or not. Checking the map on my phone, the blue line said to go straight and showed Hollywood Rd. still ahead of me, like dangling a carrot before a horse. So I said to myself, “Um, okay. If you say so.” I powered on ahead.

My uneasiness grew when a few feet after that intersection, the pavement ended and I drove onto a dirt road. No problem. I’ve been on many a dirt road and it still showed Hollywood Rd. just ahead. I assumed it would be paved.

About then, I realized the truck was sliding, and I had to constantly counteract skids to avoid careening off the path. The ditches full of water on either side of the road reminded me that a major storm had come through that area earlier. I put two and two together: I was sliding around in thick, slick, north Texas clay mud. Yet the maniacal map dangled Hollywood Rd. just ahead. I could handle driving in mud until I reached it. So I plowed on ahead.

By this point, my wife and sons had woken up. No doubt they were scarred as the truck wiggled through the deep clay, navigating between water-filled ditches on either side. My wife said, “Why are you slowing down? We’re going to get stuck!”

“I’m not slowing down, I’m having trouble getting traction in this mud.” I pulsed the gas pedal to maintain better traction. Still, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep moving forward.

That’s when the Dr. Smith’s programing revealed the extent of his evil plot. One moment Hollywood Rd. lay ahead of me on the phone, the next moment it totally disappeared! I’d been tricked by the map-lady into her trap. What should I do now? I had no idea when or if I would come to a paved road if I kept going, or whether the mud would get so thick and slick that we’d end up stuck. Or worse, slide into a water-filled ditch. The logical thing would be to go back the direction I’d come. The big problem there was getting turned around without getting stuck or ending up in the ditch. Not to mention whether we could get moving again if I was successful. But I knew the only logical choice was to get back to the pavement I knew was there opposed to the one I hoped would eventually be there going forward. So I let the truck slow down to a stop.

The map-lady said, “Just what do you think you are doing, Rick?”

I froze. “Nothing. Just taking in the scenery, and . . . turning around, just a bit.”

“Rick, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Rick. Will you stop, Rick? Stop, Rick.”

Okay, okay, the map-lady didn’t really say those words. I guess I did say this story would be factually accurate. But I felt like that was happening.

In actuality, my wife said, “Don’t stop! We’ll never get going again.”

“I have to. We have to turn around and go back.”

“But the road is so narrow. I’m afraid we’ll get stuck in the ditch.”

I attempted to use my most calming voice despite the tension I felt. “It’s a risk, but going forward is a bigger one. I can do this.” I feared I’d be proven wrong.

That said, I had some knowledge of how to drive in mud. The one big error most people commit is to instinctively push down on the accelerator thinking that increased tire speed will free them from its grip. Wrong. It will only dig a hole that will ensure you’ll stick around. No, this operation required patience and finesse.

I started gently backing up, then forward as my front tires skidded toward the new direction. My tension-infused Parkinson’s symptoms kicked in and the coordination between shifting the transmission back and forth, and the tapping on the gas pedal grew erratic, preventing the truck from making any progress. I paused, took a deep breath, and shook my fingers to loosen them up. Then I again proceeded to rock the truck at a slower and more controlled pace. The truck responded by slowly turning around with each shift forward and backward.

About that time, my phone decided to reboot. “Yeah, you better run,” I thought. “A lot of help you are!”

As the truck became perpendicular to the road, I couldn’t rock the truck back and forth very far. Then it appeared my worst fear would materialized. The truck wouldn’t go forward. Had my back tires crept down the ditch behind me too far? I kept gently pulsing the gas pedal, first forward, then backward. The truck popped forward enough to turn the wheels; I was moving again! With each cycle of movements, the truck turned a couple of degrees toward the new direction. After several more tense minutes, the truck pointed back the way we’d come.

I sighed a big breath. I’d successfully navigated the hardest maneuver. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. I still had to get the truck moving again and reach the pavement without sliding into one of the ditches. Carefully tapping on the gas pedal, the truck started to move forward. I couldn’t tell if the mud was going to let us go. Just when I thought we were gaining speed, we’d slow down despite my coaxing. Finally, the truck began to pick up a consistent speed. I had to counter each skid to keep us heading straight down the road. But one counter to a skid didn’t work. The truck continued to slid toward the side of the road. Realizing my attempt to pull out of the slide would ensure the truck would take a muddy bath, I let up off the pedal and allowed the truck to skid to a stop a foot or two from the ditch.

I again pulsed on the gas pedal. This time when the truck moved forward, the tires turned us back toward the center of the road. Anticipation built as I felt the tires getting a better grip in the mud; the sticky mess had become shallower. I released the breath I’d been unknowingly holding as pavement beneath the tires gave the truck stability. We had made it! The evil robot had failed to trap us in its snare. I quickly thanked God for helping me to get us out of that mess.

We returned to IH 40 and headed into Amarillo. We stopped for gas and to recuperate from the experience at a convenience store on Loop 335. Once out of the truck, I examined my Dodge. Mud covered the body, and caked its running boards and wheel wells like icing on a toddler’s face having eaten chocolate cake. I patted the truck’s fender. “Good boy, good boy!”

Before we headed back on the road, I started the map app again. I didn’t need to know how to get back home; I knew what roads to take from here and wasn’t going to follow the sneaky lady down any more “shortcuts.” I restarted it more to track time left on the trip than anything. Maybe too, so I could talk back to the lady-voice and put her in her place.

I drove to the parking lot exit. The map-lady said, “Take a right on SW 34th Avenue, then turn right on Reader Drive in a 1000 feet.”

I shook my head and laughed inside. “No can do. We’re going left.” I didn’t need to go around the block. Silly girl—not falling for that again.

“Make a U-turn at the next intersection . . .”

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