In Google Maps I Trust

There was a lot of traffic on the A14 tonight, the highway that snakes up the east coast of Italy before swinging across about two-thirds of the way up the peninsula towards Bologna and Milan. I had inserted my destination into Google Maps before starting out, as usual, but to my dismay, the more I drove, the later my time of arrival became. First it said two-and-a-half hours. Then after an hour it said three-and-a-half hours. An hour later, four hours. It was as if I was going in the wrong direction. Obviously, somewhere in front of me, lurking out there in the dark, was a massive, ominous back-up.

At a certain point, Google Maps (bless its heart) suggested an alternate route, which would save me an hour. I took it.

Now this alternate route took me through a series of fields, and little towns, and roundabouts, and gas stations, and all kinds of quieter realities. Most of the time, I could never really tell if I was getting closer or father away from the expressway. But whenever I did pass a ramp towards the expressway, it didn’t really matter to me whether I got back on yet or not. I didn’t want to get back on if it was still backed up. I followed Google – not my instinct – and avoided the ramp.

I was so relaxed about the whole thing, and thinking how this was quite a nice metaphor for my life.

Because I have to admit, I don’t really know the fastest way to get to where My Destiny wants to take me. It might be on the expressway (in the past I would have just plowed ahead there, thinking, “it worked last time!), but it might just as well be by taking these tiny roads. How do I know? And following Google was like following my intuition, like being in dialogue with the Universe. Sometimes it would say, “go left here,” sometimes, “go right here.” I really had to have faith that it knew better than I did.

It reminds me of my favorite movie of all time, Stalker by Andrei Tarkovskij. In it, a guide leads people into The Zone, a magical, fenced off area where only someone who respects the rules of the zone can survive. The only way to arrive at their destination, a simple stone house in front of them, is by launching stones willy-nilly into the surrounding fields and strictly following them wherever they land. The group ends up following an invisible maze that changes every time the guide enters The Zone, so he’s had to develop new ways of listening to the world to be able to navigate it. It baffles his clients, to say the least, who don’t see why they can’t just walk straight across the field… until they try, and lightning strikes.

Stay Hungry

And another thing, while we’re on the A14 detour. Whether or not you sit in traffic or make 400 turns through small towns, there’s a great difference in the amount of energy you use. Obviously, going the circuitous route demands a lot more attention, more arm movement, braking, accelerating. Not everyone I know has this amount of energy. I mean, I’m driving 4 hours to see my girlfriend, eating a sandwich and recording this and don’t care a whit about relaxing in a house all weekend, or sitting in traffic complaining. I seem to prefer obstacles and movement, helping and serving others. It makes me think of Steve Jobs’ famous college speech in which he said, “Stay Hungry.”

It’s nice that I have this active life, the kind that take me off the expressway and putting me on these little roads, that says “I’ll get you there, you’ll see.” It’s an act of faith, an act of love, and a lot of work.

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