I rented a car recently in Atlanta, and only by the grace of God am I alive to tell about it. How anyone survives especially in rush hour traffic in Atlanta is a mystery to me. Every time I successfully maneuvered throughout six lanes of traffic, cars speeding 80 mph on either side of me, and actually made it to my exit I felt that I had cheated death.

To make matters worse, the rental didn’t have a turn-by-turn navigational system. I’ve gotten accustomed to pushing a button and having a human being provide me with the exact directions, closest gas station, nearest motel, or favorite restaurant. My mobile technology certainly makes my life less complicated now. Not like when I was growing up.

My father loved doing things “the complicated way.” For example, every summer during my elementary school years in Wichita, Kansas, my mom, dad, brother, and I would drive our Mercury to visit my grandmother in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Few superhighways then, my father recalculated every summer another faster, different route for the 950 mile-trip. He was always positive that he could beat last year’s record. He rarely did. My father worked his way up from mechanic to a lead supervisor for Boeing Aircraft Co. He was smart, and he was Italian…which meant he didn’t take suggestions from my no-nonsense mother easily. Our trips usually began something like this:

My mother: “Tony, now we’re not going to drive straight through this time. I want to stop for the night.”

My father: “Louise, I know a shorter route, so we’ll get there sooner.”

My mother: “No, you’ll run out of gas again in the middle of nowhere. There are no gas stations open on those back country roads at night.”

My father: “Louise, I know what I’m doing. You worry too much. Let me handle this.”

I remember few trips, going to or leaving North Carolina, when my father did not run out of gas, in the middle of the night, on some back road while attempting to find a shorter route. That was probably because he gave our mother the responsibility of keeping up with the route he plotted on the accordion-like map which covered the whole front seat when fully extended. She was no Sacagawea (guiding Lewis and Clark). More than once my father followed her directions to a dead end road.

Thinking back, the excitement of not knowing where those unfamiliar roads would lead envelops the best memories of my childhood. Highways designed for speed with monotonous scenery do nothing to nourish the explorer in your soul. Like my father, I love getting off the beaten path, and discovering those roads less taken…aptly expressed in my favorite Robert Frost poem:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(I still want GPS along…just in case)