Not long after my husband and I crossed the Arkansas state line, we reluctantly asked Siri for last-minute directions. What a mistake. Our plan was to spend the weekend soaking in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and general quaintness of Bentonville. (It has a town square!) Amazingly, neither of us had ever been to Arkansas. We were unfamiliar with the terrain.
My Siri app has a British accent, because I’ve always wanted a proper butler dude in my life and I know this is the closest I’ll get. But despite his pleasant tone, I normally don’t want to hear him telling me to merge onto an exit “rahmp” in a “caught-ahh” mile. I want to know the rahmp is there beforehand, due to my own pre-trip preparation obsession. My butler is mainly for weather reports and Costco store hour checks.
Call it a quirk, but I have this thing. Before I hit a new destination, I must visualize everything: the unfamiliar city roads, the country lanes and the suburban sprawl. North, south, east, west, interstates, service roads, bridges, tunnels, rivers, outer loops, pigeon droppings, hot lava, Martian landing pads and all highlights.
I must know landmarks and cues or I feel uneasy. As the crow flies, the cow walks, the Google Earth Street View van stalks, the lay of the land is usually in my head before the keys touch the ignition. This has come in handy more than once. When I see my family members’ atlas-inspired eye rolls, I’m happy to remind them of “that time in St. Louis.” I was a navigational hero.
Never miss a local story.
It’s a gamble, I tell them, to rely solely on a pocket gadget to navigate new turf. I lecture my itinerant sons, “What if you lose your phone? What if there’s a solar flare? An anemic battery? Then what?” I remind them a pre-travel map study is the way to go. Anywhere.
I’m a supreme nerd; a cautious, wannabe cartographer.
This is why I was angry at myself for conjuring the British Dude on U.S. 71 in Bentonville, Ark.
As we approached the town, the exit we were supposed to take for our conveniently located hotel, Exit 85, did not seem to jive with the signage declaring all the neato stuff supposedly near our lodging was accessible by Exit 93. An uncomfortable span for a smallish town.
Panic, panic. I hate feeling lost, because it rarely happens. Geographically speaking.
“Ask Siri” suggested my better half, who was behind the wheel. A few minutes later he growled, “I hate that guy.” Suddenly I did, too. The butler is great for movie trivia — I melt when he says Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard — but to hear him utter road directions is, for me, an admission of failure.
My excuse? It was only the night before we seized the wild hair to invade Arkansas. I was tired, so I quickly did my favorite circa 2007 travel thing which embarrasses my sons: I printed out MapQuest directions. I can’t break that habit. This time, though, I printed directions without studying a physical map. Words, but no visuals. Talk about wild.
So there we were, in the Ozarks, choosing between a MapQuest list and Siri. We went with the British dude. Long story short, I dictated the hotel address and we ended up bickering at a strip mall with a tattoo place and a sketchy loan store.
“Why didn’t you tell Siri the name of the hotel instead of the address? He never understands you!”
“Why did you insist we didn’t need to bring the Rand McNally?”
We were irritable, hungry, and circling a tatt shop parking lot, which is not the way to begin a weekend getaway.
Luckily, Bentonville isn’t a major metropolis. We eventually found our way. What a sweet, surprising artsy town. Go there, but may I suggest you don’t bring the butler.
Reach Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell