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Post details: Random Trip to Nowhere

Random Trip to Nowhere

Deciding on a destination for a weekend trip can be trickier than playing badminton in a Boeing wind tunnel. Here is the stereotypical scenario: she wants to go to Richmond for a crafts festival while he would rather drive to Baltimore because the Yankees are in town. With such geopolitical predicament, no matter how much diplomatic lubricant is expended, one side of the negotiation table ends up flexing their brow muscles and - should the choice turn out to be less than spectacularly entertaining - with a pretext for a hearty "I told you so". But there is a perfectly democratic mechanism which makes the outcome fair. A game I call the Random Trip.

Its principle is very simple. Both players simply take turns in deciding where to go. You basically keep going straight until a person whose turn it is decides to go left or right. And it doesn't matter whether that next turn is the immediate left, or a right taken after an endless series of traffic lights. As long as it is your turn, you can wait it out all the way to the nearest T intersection, where the decision is finally forced upon you. Any time a decision to change direction is made, the turn goes to the other person. This way no matter where you end up, it is always a shared responsibility and any desire to play the blame game has to be deferred for later activities, such as cooking dinner, painting the living room walls or assembling an electron microscope.

This Saturday, I took one of my Czech friends for a random trip on I-66. We escaped about 20 miles west of the city, where I chose to take an exit to Rt 17. The ramp quickly ended at a T-intersection where my friend chose to go south. Then it was my turn again and since I liked the road we stayed on it for a while until I took a sharp right onto some pretty local road. My co-navigator didn't like it very much as she instructed me to take a quick compensating left at the first opportunity. Soon we had no more idea about our whereabouts than Homer Simpson in a smoke filled mirror maze.

After about 60 minutes, we arrived at a nice little town named Orlean where my friend demanded an emergency stop at a local antiques store for unspecified reasons. I suspect she was hoping to find slightly misspelled birth certificate of Joan of Arc. Whatever the cause was, just as we were about to leave their parking lot, she further claimed to have spotted a restaurant on the other side of the road and passingly mentioned an incipient sensation of hunger. I expressed serious doubts that an establishment marked simply as Gas/Market/Restaurant would have anything to offer besides cold Hot Dogs, but since improvisation is the middle name of this game, I nodded to a little exploratory mission.

It felt like stepping through a looking glass; and one made in the 50s at that. It was about 5pm and the place styled in unintended retro with an emphasis on formica was virtually empty, save for a lanky guy sitting by the front door and a chatty curly haired girl swaying on one of the barstools and simultaneously maintaining a close relationship with half of the cooking staff. But when the waitress/retired actress brought my Tilapia Fillet, my impression of the place took a sharp U-turn. If this is how they cooked in the 50s, then I better go and place an eBay bid on a used Time Machine. I bet that many a fine connoisseur in DC would melt at the taste of seafood they serve at this gas station, but they'll never get the chance for they choose to operate within the boundaries set by their favorite lifestyle magazine.

That is the beauty of Random Trips. They tend to offer a menu of delightful and unexpected appetizers, and I do not just mean the culinary ones. Keep your sensory inputs open and you'll get to see well manicured farmlands with their lawns sheared not mowed, private horse tracks delimited by white fences, shreds of the after rain fog scattered over the road like pieces of a fairy wardrobe, weathered churches perching on grassy knolls, an old graveyard staging a soporific mutiny against the flow of time, stone benches overlooking a reed infested gully carved out by a meandering creek, dirt roads dotted with wild strawberries...

And if you take sufficiently many wrong turns, you may even happen upon that elusive Holy Grail of all random travelers: the Road to Nowhere.



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