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  • Jan Flynn

Drive My Imagination

My long Presidents’ Day weekend featured a road trip to points south along the coast. Just me and my dog and the open road — or as open as the road is going to get on a holiday weekend in California. As with all weekend getaways, even long ones, all too soon I had to head back north toward home.

If you are waiting for me to tell you about what went wrong and the adventure that ensued, I must disclose right now that nothing at all went wrong, exactly, except that I lost an argument with Siri. You’re no doubt familiar with Siri, the operating system that we iPhone and Apple aficionados have recruited to take over tasks that our brains used to do for us — make grocery lists,  hail a cab, maybe look at a map before we went someplace we’d never been. My car has Apple CarPlay, which means my phone and therefore Siri is supposed to sync seamlessly while I drive. It works great, until it doesn’t.

Remember The Jetsons? Loved that show. They had such cool space-age gizmos. Robots with personalities, flying cars with clear bubble tops, gumdrop-colored high rise buildings. And the joke was, they carped all the time about how much they had to do (George Jetson worked, like, two hours a week) and how tough it was when Rosy the robot maid lost power or the food printer went on the fritz.

This morning, there I am on the 101 North, swearing a blue streak because Siri refuses to play my podcasts. What’s the deal? I should totally be able to push a button, bark orders, and be entertained while I drive. But all I’m getting is, “Uh, oh. Jan. There seems to be a problem. Please try again,” delivered in that faux-human tone that is at once obsequious and snarky. And assuming it can use my first name. After three repetitions, I’m like Jane Jetson would be if Astro peed on the carpet.

I have two hundred miles of California to cover and I forgot to install the Pandora app and I’m too cheap to subscribe to Sirius and all the radio stations I can find are either in a language I don’t understand or are pitching Bible verses at me. What am I supposed to do?

Molly, my non-space age dog, is no help. She’s asleep in the back seat. For all that I am surrounded by other people encased in their own traveling armature, I am alone. The road just keeps rolling, underneath and past me. Ranch land. Vineyards. Lettuce fields, bean fields. Towns, strip malls, gas stations, motels, Starbucks. In the distance, rolling hills, some green, some brown, some awash in chrome-colored mustard blossoms. Above it all is a cool blue sky puffed with clouds, the February sun washing everything in its thin light, mercilessly and heartbreakingly clear. Long shadows frame brilliantly illuminated trees and fenceposts.

And my brain stops craving distraction. Instead it finds ways to amuse itself, like it did when I was a kid and there wasn’t anything to do. It doodles and swirls, inventing toys to play with: here’s something that could be a short story, there’s a possible scene that could become a play. Pieces of my recent experiences are repurposed, woven into alternate narratives, with no judgment, no demand for result.

After a couple of hours, Siri decides to cooperate again. But I find I’m happy with my own company. Well, mine and the dog’s. It’s nice to know she’s there, snoring in the back seat.

When I get home, I have a lot of unpacking and all the chores and activities associated with reentry after even a short time away from home and the normal routine. Instead of feeling pushed as I often do, I find myself performing each task with more focus and willingness than usual. I feel, I realize, restored.

Maybe I’m more Wilma Flintstone than Jane Jetson.

When a long stretch of enforced solitude comes up for you, do you find it annoying or restorative? Or some of both? Please chime in!

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