Spevak: Three lost males test outer limits of navigation skills

john.spevak@gmail.comJuly 4, 2013 

In last week's column I began the story of a my drive from southern California to Los Banos with my son Mike and my 3-year-old grandson AJ.

At the end of that column, the three Spevak males had realized traffic had come to a dead stop on Interstate 5, at the Utica Road exit, about 50 miles north of Bakersfield. It could be hours before traffic started moving again.

We pulled off at the exit and eventually decided to drive east on Utica toward Highway 99. We kept driving as the sun was setting and our gas gauge was nearing empty. We came to Sixth Avenue.

Should we turn left (north) or right (south)? Without our cell phones' GPS working and without a paper map, we had to trust our guts.

Mike decided to add some diversion to our disorientation. "Co-pilot to pilot," he said. "We will have to use all our 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' skills to get through this."

"Roger and out," I said

We decided to turn left and go north, toward Los Banos. After a few miles of nothingness — no building, no vehicles, no cross streets — we saw very bright lights ahead. This could be hopeful.

Then we saw a sign: "Do not pick up hitchhikers." That's when we realized we were nearing the Corcoran prison.

"Pilot, this is your co-pilot," Mike said, "I suggest we go the other direction."

I made a U-turn and headed south. Suddenly, Mike's cell phone GPS came on. It told us to turn east onto Virginia Avenue. That could send us toward Highway 99. Then his GPS disappeared.

Fortunately, AJ was relatively calm. He was entertaining himself in the back seat by playing with the flashlight on Papa's cell phone, shining the light at Papa driving.

Dusk was turning to darkness, but we could still (barely) read a street sign — if we came across one. After a few miles, we passed a road that seemed one level above a dirt path. "I think that was Virginia," Mike said.

"I didn't see a sign," I said. "Neither did I," said Mike, "but I think that's it." We doubled back and turned down that road.

Eventually, I saw a small battered sign. "Pilot to co-pilot," I said, "I see we're on Virginia."

Virginia Avenue, after a dog-leg, turned into Avenue 54. Before long, new signs appeared: "Detour ahead." Where would that take us? Our GPS was still down.

A city limits sign appeared: "Alpaugh." At the town's lone stop sign, we had to turn left to follow the detour then turn right again a few miles down.

It was now completely dark. The gas gauge needle leaned on "E." The landscape looked like a good place for a UFO to land.

Maybe it was a good thing our wives were not with us. They would now be seriously questioning our navigational judgment. At this point all we could say was, "Let the force be with us."

Just then we saw lights in the distance, a string of them running perpendicular to our road.

"Co-pilot to pilot," Mike said, "I have sighted 99." The lights of Highway 99 never looked so good.

Once on 99, we saw a sign indicating the next exit was Tulare. I said to my co-pilot, "Tulare?! Shoot, we're still a long way from home."

We estimated how far we still were from Chowchilla and the turnoff for Highway 152. We wouldn't arrive there until 9:30 p.m. I would be getting home late, but Mike and AJ would be getting home really late.

I called my wife Sandy. "Could someone pick me up in Chowchilla and save Mike an hour's travel time?" I asked.

Fortunately, our granddaughter Sydney was there, a 16-year-old who likes driving. Sydney and her aunt Amanda would be willing to come get me.

I told Mike to get some sleep. When we arrived at the Starbucks in Chowchilla, Sydney and Amanda were just pulling up. I said goodbye to Mike and AJ.

I arrived home around 10:15. Mike, refreshed from a nap, made it to Reno around 2 a.m. He and I and AJ had all survived our adventure, just barely.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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