From The Side of the Road… getting there is half the fun

The Memorial Day weekend is sort of a milestone in the year. It’s the unofficial start of summer. The fashion people also tell us it’s now okay to wear white shoes (lime green leisure suit optional). 

Canada celebrates a long weekend the week before, this coming Monday being Victoria Day. That marks the unofficial start of everybody wishing it was summer. In Queen Victoria’s view, it was never okay to wear white shoes.

For the bluegrass fan and musician, it’s the unofficial start of the festival season, usually celebrated by a spike in gas prices. It’s also time to limber up your navigational skills as you try to find a festival this weekend.

Bluegrass festivals may be the most difficult events in the world to locate. Beautiful though many of these sites may be, they’re usually situated miles from any town or describable landmark. And, if you’re male, and decide to risk the documented plummeting of testosterone levels that results from asking directions, you’ll find that the locals not only don’t know where it is, they’ve never heard of the festival. The idea that a music event attracting thousands is completely unknown to residents who live less than 10 miles from the site gives you a slightly creepy Twilight Zone-ish feeling, like you’re about to go to a festival held in another dimension, and yet you must bravely forge on.

Then there’s an age-old tradition of poor to non-existent signage that just adds to your challenge. Most of us are familiar with the paper plate with “BLUEGRASS” written on it in almost-dried out marker with an arrow pointing in what you think is the direction of the event. My favorite of these was the one where they ran out of room and “BLUEGRASS” had to be hyphenated awkwardly so the sign read:


At the next intersection there’s nothing. The paper plate may have blown away. The bottom line is that you’re just expected to know how to get there. You found it last year, didn’t you?

I think it was Sonny Osborne who said that one of the biggest changes in the business he had seen was the building of the interstate highway system, dramatically cutting down the time it takes to get from point A to point B (except on the Friday or Monday of the Memorial Day weekend).

The next big revolution in road travel occurred when GPS (“Getting Places Sooner”) was invented. The era has arrived when we no longer have to ask for directions and no longer care if the word “bluegrass” would fit on a paper plate. We now just have to listen to a somewhat smug-sounding voice telling us to “proceed to the route” or, in the worst-case scenario, to “make a U-turn when possible.”

Just a note to keep endorsees happy: I do all of my navigating with GPS phosphor bronze, medium gauge.

Have you noticed, though, that people who love giving hyper-detailed directions aren’t fazed at all by the widespread use of GPS, now available on virtually every smartphone? You know the kind of directions I mean: “You go down this road 3/4 of a mile until you get to a power pole, then keep going another 2 miles. You’ll get to a barn that used to say ‘Schirmer’s Auctions,’ but I think that sign’s gone now. You’ll bear to the left and then turn sharp right at a large oak tree. After about 5 miles you’ll see a post office on the left, and a 4-way stop. Don’t turn, just keep going straight. You’ll go through 5 more lights, then cross the river twice before you get to one more light. Then keep going straight . . .”

They’re as enthusiastic as ever about telling you all this. The difference is, where you used to be straining to remember all these details, or feverishly writing them down, you now do your best to look like you’re listening intently, when in reality you’re trying to remember if the second verse of Love Please Come Home starts with “That old wind . . .” or not, and if this Saturday is your Aunt Betty’s birthday, or if that’s next Saturday. Once you’re out of sight, you program the address you have into the GPS and off you go.

Some professional direction-givers are onto this little game and are more than a little resentful of GPS technology. They tend to treat it with the same kind of disdain that advocates of alternative and holistic medicine treat medical professionals, so sometimes you’ll hear, “now don’t use the GPS to get here; it’ll take you the slow way around.” Before you let yourself be intimidated by this, remember that this is the same person who used to discourage people from following a road map (“the roads have changed since they printed that map. My short cut is much better.”)

Not that your GPS doesn’t occasionally send you into a random cow pasture, and then say “proceed to the route” as if it was your fault. That’s when you can feel free to tell her off and make fun of the way she pronounces names like “Demonbreun” or “Appleknocker.” 90% of the time, though, she’s going to send you to the pasture that’s actually the one you’re looking for. 

Do you see a lot of campers and tents? Do you hear the strains of music you love floating through the window? Is someone you don’t know waving to you? Do you no longer have cell service? “You have reached your destination.” Have a great weekend.