The Interstate Shuffle, Blaming Siri, Einstein’s Theory Explained

This Week in Lincolnville: Driving Distance 1,507 Miles

....or 1,289 as the crow flies
Mon, 01/07/2019 - 3:00pm

Of course, anyone can tell from this column’s title that I’ve been talking to Siri. She’s (usually) so accommodating, looking up obscure facts for me in seconds. Like how many miles between Lincolnville, Maine and Melbourne, Florida, the distance we drove over New Year’s weekend.

Don’t know Siri? I’m a fairly new acquaintance myself, the owner of a cell/smart phone for barely a year now. Yesterday I stepped off a plane from Florida and into my son’s rented car in Portland. Lunch? Sure, so I asked Siri for driving directions to Denny’s.

My son, whom I’ve seen only occasionally in the past three years, snickered a bit. “You Ma? Siri. Really?”

Yes, really.

The drive Don French and I took to Florida last week had been accomplished sans paper map. Well, actually, halfway there we did buy a road atlas at a rest stop, but more for old time’s sake than for any navigational need. We two are of an age when we remember our parents folding and re-folding those gas station road maps, the mom scanning the route as the dad drove, telling him to “take the next left”, he ignoring her, then “TURN HERE!” as the car sailed past the crucial intersection, he grumbling at her all the way back to the missed turn.

Today we get to blame Siri.

We set off for Melbourne a few days after Christmas, later than originally planned, but there was a family gathering one day, and then a big rain storm the next, so it was Saturday before we left. Everybody in Maine knows the way out; there are no shortcuts. You either get to 95 via Route 1 or you go via Gardiner to 295 to 95. Three hours, give or take, to the Kittery bridge. And always a McD’s sausage/egg/cheese biscuit along the way, hash brown and juice on the side.

95 to 495, the outer circle of hell, with 128 being the inner circle if I’m remembering my Boston days accurately. Then to 90, the Mass Pike, which hasn't changed a wit in the 50+ years since I first met it. Saturday we decided, especially the Saturday after Christmas, was a big day to hit the malls, the stores, to get on the road and shop. And they were all out on this corridor through Massachusetts and then Connecticut, when all we wanted to do was pass through it. How thoughtless of them to crowd the road we needed to take.


MONDAY, Jan. 7

School Committee, 6 p.m., LCS


Needlework Group, 4-6 p.m., Library


Planning Board, 7 p.m., Town Office

Einstein’s Theory Explained, 7 p.m., Library


Solar Purchase Committee, 9 a.m., Town Office

Soup Café, Noon-1 p.m., Community Building, 18 Searsmont Road


AA meetings, Tuesdays & Fridays at 12:15 p.m., Wednesdays & Sundays at 6 p.m., United Christian Church

Lincolnville Community Library, open Tuesdays 4-7, Wednesdays, 2-7, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon. For information call 706-3896.

Soup Café, every Thursday, noon—1p.m., Community Building, Sponsored by United Christian Church. Free, though donations to the Community Building are appreciated

Schoolhouse Museum open by appointment, 789-5984.

Bayshore Baptist Church, Sunday School for all ages, 9:30 a.m., Worship Service at 11 a.m., Atlantic Highway

United Christian Church, Worship Service 9:30 a.m., Children’s Church during service, 18 Searsmont Road


There was the usual backup for a jackknifed tractor trailer, fortunately we thought, in the northbound lane. We and our fellow travelers cruised at 70 while they on the other side weren’t even inching; they were plain stopped – for miles they were stopped. It must be a throwback to earlier times, watching the other guy’s misfortune with a certain glee. Poor bastards we said to each other, when what we meant was “glad it’s not us.”

Nearly to the end of the Pike we turned onto 84, taking us down past and through Hartford, he remembering the years he lived and worked there, me recalling the college boyfriend who took me home to his parents’ house there many week-ends. A long road trip requires lots and lots of conversation just to stay awake. By Hartford we’d only just begun.

Danbury lay ahead and more crazy post-holiday week-end traffic that began to let up a bit by the time we crossed the New York state line. Our goal for the first night was Port Jervis, a town that’s barely in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all at the same time, the eastern version of the Four Corners out west. My experienced travel companion likes to alternate nights between Holiday Express and Hampton Inn. This stay-at-home country mouse is learning the ropes. About an hour before we decide to cash it in, to give up for the day, I ask Siri to call the nearest one and reserve a room.

Then ask her to lead us there.

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we’re signed in, “keys” in hand, and we’re hauling our stuff (he travels with one bag, I need four ­– no excuses) into an elevator (these places have cool luggage carts for people like us) up to room such and such. Open the door and you could be walking into a hotel room in absolutely any town anywhere.

The next morning we woke up to snow (not a new phenomenon for Mainers; last year in Rome we woke up to that city’s first snow in 20 years, or so the locals insisted). But we had to drive through some high, hilly country, now on 81 going south into Virginia, me driving at this point, he nervous at what lay ahead. Both of us had visions of stranded travelers dancing in our heads, those poor souls who populate the evening news these winter weeks. (Last year’s trip to Italy ended with a similar vision-come-true, us sleeping on the floor in the Newark airport).

But those snowy miles turned to sunny ones, taking us through beautiful Virginia. We traded off driving the whole way, whoever wasn’t behind the wheel feeding the one who was. We carried a cooler full of stuff we could call lunch ­– cheese sticks, celery, apples, boiled eggs – deliberately avoiding the chips and junk food we both craved. It was a good plan.

For a few miles our route takes us through West Virginia. We pass a sign to Harpers Ferry. “Have you ever been there?” he asks, probably knowing the answer since I’ve told him I’ve seen none of the Civil War sites. Without any discussion he drives off the Interstate, and we make our way to this iconic place that means nothing more to me than a name: John Brown.

On the way I ask Siri to tell me about the guy, a fanatic who tried to foment an uprising of the South’s enslaved population. Long story short, if you can’t recall it, John Brown attempted to capture the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, and arm the slaves who could then overthrow their masters. His plan failed disastrously, for him anyway, as he was executed two months later. His last words?
You may dispose of me very easily; I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settledthis negro question I mean – the end of that is not yet.”

So Harpers Ferry is a National Historical Site, and you may have heard that our government is currently shut down. That meant the shuttles from the parking lot that carried people to the actual town of Harpers Ferry, located at the bottom of a high bluff on the Potomac River, weren’t running. A foot trail led down the bluff along with a warning that it was “strenuous”, not to be attempted lightly. But we took it anyway, every step of the way asking ourselves, silently, privately “what the hell are we doing?”

We made it to the bottom, down numerous tall stone steps and steep grades, to find ourselves with still a mile and a half of paved road to Harpers Ferry. And what a fascinating, totally unexpected place it turned out to be. I won’t go into it here, but suggest if you haven’t been there, go. Preferably when the powers that be are letting the shuttle buses run. Because after exploring for an hour or so we headed back to the dreaded trail, each privately scared we couldn’t make it back up.

One step at a time, me counting them out loud, 120 tall stone steps, we fairly scampered up like two old mountain goats. Well, no we didn’t scamper, but neither of us got out of breath, and surprised ourselves that we did it so easily, while taking great pleasure in accosting the much younger (and panting) people we met on the way, letting them know two 70 and 80 somethings weren’t having any trouble at all.

Back in the truck I asked, or maybe he asked, Siri to take us to some town in Virginia we thought would be a few miles down the Interstate. She did her best, because I think it was the wrong question, and sent us on an hour-long ramble through West Virginia on narrow, winding roads. There seemed no escape from this bucolic tour which we enjoyed tremendously, always with an eye to the lowering sun. Evening was coming on. Finally she dumped us on a numbered highway that seemed vaguely familiar; in no time we were back on 81 heading for Florida.

Night two found us in Harrisonburg, Virginia, another Hampton/Holiday, I can’t remember which. These Interstate exits are obviously planned to serve the traveler as pit stops on the way from here to there. Besides the plethora of hotels – usually at least three, maybe half a dozen – there are, naturally, several gas stations, and a restaurant or two. One desk clerk helpfully steered us to a next door truck stop for dinner; “you’d rather walk, right, not get back in the car?” She had that right.

But this is America, so there’s rarely any accommodation for the pedestrian along the Interstate complex, nary a sidewalk to be found. So even though theoretically the restaurants are within walking distance you risk your life getting there, walking the shoulder of a 50 mph road, hopping over ditches, crossing unlit parking lots. I drew the line at walking over the Interstate overpass that had a mere 18” high wall instead of a sturdy fence. I’m getting shivers just remembering it.

Mornings in these hotels are predictable; a full breakfast spread comes along with the price of the room. They’re fun. Clever gadgets like do-it-yourself waffle makers or pancake griddles, a pot of oatmeal complete with a choice of nuts, fruit, and brown sugar, dry cereal in those tiny boxes I remember from childhood, though my mother would never buy them, or tall cylinder dispensers of raisin bran and cheerios. None of this is new to most people, but for me still a novelty. After finishing off a plate of sausage patties or more bacon than a man should eat and a pile of scrambled eggs, the pastries beckon.

No wonder we could fill up on celery sticks and peanut butter crackers for lunch.

Fancy Gap, North Carolina. How did I get to be this advanced age without ever hearing of Fancy Gap? I was driving the morning we traveled through, but first we pulled off the road so he could show me how to manually downshift his big Chevy truck. I’d need to do that on the seven-mile grade after the Gap. And then we hit fog. That’s such a common occurrence that they’ve painted special lines to follow through that stretch as well as several escape lanes for runaway trucks and signs flashing “FOG ADVISORY”. Unfortunately the fog was so thick we might as well have been in a tunnel; no view of Fancy Gap for me this trip.

We saw in the New Year in Waltersburg, South Carolina, dining at the Cracker Barrel just down from our Holiday/Hampton. I ordered chicken livers, and I think he had a steak with fried okra. We skipped dessert.

The last day, the last leg took us through Georgia’s Low Country; thanks to my neighbors Cheryl and Niel I’d actually heard of it. Flat, endless vistas; these places always give me an urge to get out of the truck and walk some, to see it. We crossed the state line with great anticipation for the free orange juice they give out at the Florida Welcome Center. We weren’t the only ones disappointed to find the place closed down, for the holiday the sign said, but we suspected, conspiratorially-like, that it was connected to the Federal shut down. Other grumbling travelers mentioned the missing orange juice as we milled around the locked doors. At least the bathrooms were still working.

Finally, shortly after noon on the fourth driving day we pulled into Land Yacht Harbor, the Airstream park where Don’s trailer is parked. I can’t remember how many sites there are, mostly Airstreams, but also quite a few S.O.B.s (some other brand). More about all that another day.


Librarian Elizabeth Eudy writes: “Tuesday, Jan. 8 the Knitting and Needlework group will meet from 4 until 6. What a great escape on a winter evening! Knit, crochet, felt, cross stitch—bring your project, make new friends, have a cup of tea. This group is lively, welcoming and very talented. Newcomers are encouraged to join the fun. 

“Then Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. John Williams will give a presentation on Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. John says, "Come stretch your mind!  What, exactly, is meant by the term ‘spacetime’?  Why, exactly, does time slow down if you move at high speed?  Einstein uncovered a new strangeness to the universe using pure logic that any curious person can understand. See for yourself, from simple diagrams, how Einstein figured it all out from just a single fact about the speed of light. This presentation is based on chapter 1 of Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory, by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman.  See you there!”

As always, these Library programs are free and open to all. Come early to get a seat!

Getting Back

I returned from Florida yesterday, Sunday. Flying on three different planes I arrived in Portland just six hours after leaving Melbourne. It’s a bit disconcerting to go from one very busy – bustling – area to our quiet town, surrounded by trees and hills, everything – and everyone – so familiar.

2019 marks the start of the 40th year I’ve written about Lincolnville, starting in 1979 in The Camden Herald and lately here, in the Pilot. I’m open to suggestions of topics to write about; email me with ideas. Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all!