Return to the Route 

"In one mile, turn left on Highway TT."

"'Highway TT?' Seriously, Siri? We are so lost. I'm going to pull over on this side road and check out the route."

"Return to the route."

"Shut up, Siri."

"I can't even get phone service out here. I guess we just have to trust Siri knows what the hell she's doing. Highway TT. Right. We are so lost."

We were somewhere on the tiny back roads of southern Missouri, somewhere between wide spots in the road named Manes and Competition, traveling "highways" with letters for names, narrow roads with deep, stomach-flipping dips between hills, roads that meandered like a string tossed on a rumpled bedspread.

We were headed — theoretically, anyway — to the Lake of the Ozarks for a family gathering, and my wife and I had entrusted Siri with the mission of getting us there, since there seemed to be no obvious route from Memphis.

And I admit there's a sort of comfort in just releasing navigation duties to one's phone and focusing on conversation with your mate, listening to podcasts, soaking up the scenery. Every once in a while, Siri pipes up and tells you where to go, and you obey.

Once upon a time, negotiating a route to an unfamiliar destination was a cooperative endeavor between passenger and driver. The passenger's job was to read the map and issue directions. The driver's job was to question the passenger's map-reading skills and demand to look at the map periodically. My wife and I were very good at this.

If you somehow found yourself on Route TT, you figured you'd made a mistake. But Siri is very sure of herself.

"You are on the fastest route."

"Shut up, Siri."

Turned out that Siri was, in fact, on the money, directing us right to our cabin on an obscure point on the lake at the end of Route EE. We had a great weekend, visiting with seldom-seen relatives, fishing from the dock, and eating too much.

On the way back, we just gave in to Siri without a second thought, figuring she knew what she was doing. And again, she steered us through the back roads. We didn't mind. It was a bright, cloudless Sunday morning. There was no traffic. The hills and fields were as green as green ever was, lush with late-spring growth; the gravel-bed streams were sparkling and gin-clear. We swung into and through the asphalt curves like water through a hose. Easy. Like Sunday morning.

There is substantial comfort in knowing you are traveling with the one you should be traveling with, your true companion. Conversation ebbs and flows. You discuss family, home projects, work, the countryside, the future. Deep thoughts are shared.

"Have you ever seen a live armadillo?"

"No, but there sure are lots of dead ones around here."

"We didn't have armadillos in Missouri when I was growing up. It's weird how they've migrated up here."

Right on cue, as we rounded a curve, we came upon another dead armadillo. Standing over it was a magnificent bald eagle. I slowed the car to a crawl, and the eagle stared us down for a moment, then spread its massive wings and took off as we pulled close.

"Whoa."

"Let's turn around and see if he comes back."

So we did, and he did. And we watched America's national bird pick at an armadillo carcass for a while, until another car came along and it was time for all of us to go. We had 200 miles ahead of us.

And besides, Siri was worried that we were lost. "Return to the route," she kept saying.

So we did. And there's probably a metaphor in there, somewhere, but I'll leave that to you.


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