A message to Garcia

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We were chatting over breakfast about that bridge in Atlanta that collapsed, closing a part of Interstate 85. One of the guys wondered whether that affected I-75, so we Googled the news reports, and were treated to detailed instructions such as:

From Peachtree, take the Cheshire Bridge Road, under Lindbergh Drive – or was it over Lindbergh Drive, under the Cheshire Bridge and across Peachtree … there were a bunch of other streets and roads mentioned. All of them, probably, of significance to the locals. If I were headed to Atlanta in the next week or so, I believe I would head somewhere else.

Reading all those local street names put me in mind of a commercial I once heard from a lumber company. Apparently the old-timer in the commercial had been asked a few too many times how to get some place or other, and been chastised because of the paucity of street name signs.

“We don’t use street signs around here,” he said, “because if you know where you’re going, you don’t need them, and if you don’t know where you’re going, they won’t help.”

I was at a friend’s house one day and overheard his son trying to decipher directions to the place they would meet, at the fairground about 20 miles from home. Son was totally confused. Finally, he hung up the phone, but not before tossing, “I’ll figure it out, Dad.”

“Take a couple of breaths and I’ll tell you how to get there,” I said.

“Go down your driveway and turn right,” I started, “and drive until you get to a stop sign. Turn right again.”

“How far to the stop sign,” he asked.

“Don’t worry about it. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t got to it. If you find yourself in the river, you missed it.”

“What river?!” he queried.

“OK, at the green bridge, turn left. At the Dodge dealer, turn right.”

“When you get to where there are guys offering to let you park on their lawns for $5, the fairground is across the street.”

“How far is it,” Sonny asked.

“You won’t need to pack a lunch,” I said.

My uncle got off the interstate several years ago on the way to our house, and, being somewhat unsure where he was headed, stopped at the first filling station he came to and asked for directions to Strong, the town in which we lived.

“You get back on the road, keep headin’ the way you were, and when you come to the Shell station, bear right across the bridge and you’ll be right there,” the station proprietor said.

It was said that Uncle seriously harbored thoughts of going back where he’d come from until, 63 miles later, the Shell station appeared just to the left of a bridge.

Of course, the directions sometimes depend on the age of the person being directed. We had a blind guy in town named McGillicutty (I’m not making that up!) who was our emergency services dispatcher. He knew every road in a 50-mile radius, including some very age-specific landmarks.

“Go out the Barker Road, and turn right up the dirt road where the lightning destroyed that old oak. The road will go through the barnyard and the house will be just on the other side.”

The directions were accurate, but if the ambulance driver had been younger, he’d have had a problem. Lightning had turned the oak into toothpicks back in 1952.

I learned very early if one’s assignment were to get “A Message to Garcia,” too much directional detail probably was not going to be much help.

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