Driving the Green Mile

Don’t laugh…but I’ve always kind of fancied myself as an “authentic-old-fashioned-guy.”

Look, I asked you not to laugh, okay?

I suppose if somebody was going to be an “AUTHENTIC-old-fashioned-person” they would need to be born into an “AUTHENTIC-old-fashioned-decade.”

If I had been given a choice of eras, I probably would have opted for that post-WWII era. That was the generation of milkmen. They worked in lumber mills. They smoked unfiltered cigarettes. They opened bottles with their teeth. That generation watched TV shows like “I Love Lucy” that were filmed before a live studio audience. Old fashioned guys of that day had a “get-out-of-my-way-so-I-can-do-it-myself” attitude. These “Old Fashioned” guys attracted “Old Fashioned Gals.” Gals who confidently wore fedoras perched atop their 40s era hairdos. Those gals had gams! They could pound rivets and kick Hitler’s ass!

(Sigh)

Instead, I was a child of the 80s. This was the generation of yuppies. My generation worked in “mid-level managment.” They drove Volvos. They drank bottled water. My generation watched TV shows like “Alf” that were filmed with a laugh track. Guys in my generation had an “I’ll-move-out-of-the-way-so-somebody-else-can-do-it” attitude. Guys in my generation attracted big haired gals who wore leg warmers. Those gals drank fruit smoothies. They ate tofu and thought Hitler was “a tad gauche.”

Staking my claim as an “authentic old fashioned guy” was going to be an uphill battle. I don’t open bottles with my teeth because I’m afraid of my dentist. Cigarettes are icky….and, frankly, I kind of liked “Alf.”

Furthermore, pertaining to “authentic-old-fashioned-guys-that-could-do-things-by-themselves”…I couldn’t even fold a paper road map without my dad helping me.

As I assess this situation now, I believe my only hope of claiming identity as an “authentic-old-fashioned” guy rests in the fact that I drank an insane amount of rich, chocolaty Ovaltine. Somehow, I don’t think that will impress the judges though.

I don’t know. That whole “not-being-able-to-fold-a-paper-map” thing might have been my undoing as an “AUTHENTIC-old-fashioned” guy.

I loved paper maps. I spent a lot of time with them. I guess I thought that made me “old fashioned”…like my dad.

Since “old fashioned” guys never get lost, I was willing to put up with all of the inherent hassle associated with the “old fashioned” map: road atlases (or “atli” to discerning map connoisseurs) that weighed a metric ton. Enlarged map insets always gave convenient, needed detail…for the “other city.” Adding to the hassle was the fact that a completely unfolded paper map was, in some cases, “actual size.”

In theory, this would be no problem for an “authentic-old-fashioned” guy with a “get-out-of-my-way-so-I-can-do-it-myself” attitude…but “theory” and “reality” are two different things. The paper map concept was getting a little…”dog-eared,” and, frankly, I was ready for a change.

And change was a-comin’.

The computer age was upon us. Right after we had partied like it was “New Year’s Eve 1999” (because, well, it had been New Year’s Eve 1999) the world woke up to “Y2K.” Now we could finally live life like the Jetsons! Four hour work weeks, snappy service robots, flying cars! Talking dogs!

Maybe not.

It turned out that “Y2K” gave us the generation of millennials. This generation ate avocado toast. They watched podcasts in their parent’s basements. Millennial guys attracted “new age” millennial gals who wore knit caps in the summertime. They had teacup dogs. They rode scooters to oxygen bars and had NO IDEA who Hitler was. Incidentally, did anyone ever notice that “The Jetsons” had a laugh track? I wonder if that’s significant?

[Shoulder shrug]

Nevertheless, one futuristic thing that the Y2K era did give us was the futuristic map. The computerized map was decidedly not your father’s kind of map. The world would no longer have to worry about pesky “paper-map-navigational-errors.” No more worry about wind direction while attempting to unfold or refold (incorrectly or otherwise) a paper map. No more worry about aggravated hernias caused by the lifting of unwieldy coffee table atlases (or atlai). No more: “Hey wait a sec…this isn’t a road leading to a town…this is a greasy hair leading to a smushed fly!”

Sure, you may have to wipe down the screen every once in a while, but beyond that, these new computer maps had everything! Rest stops! Repair stops! Truck stops! Street level mapping for the entire continent! More importantly though, these new digital maps had the exact address of every Arby’s in North America.

Normally, “Authentic old fashioned” guys resist change…but this herculean advancement in way-finding was something to behold.

I mean seriously, EVERY ARBY’S.

I snuck out one night to buy a map program. I came home smelling of ozone. I had a suspicious U.P.C. sticker on my collar. My paper maps knew what was up right away. I told them, “It’s not you…it’s me.” Then I made a confession of love for the new fangled “E-map.” With that, I could feel my “”authentic”-old-fashioned-wannabe-self” slipping away.

During the “novelty phase” of “computer map euphoria,” I shared my heavenly cartographic discovery with a nerdy friend. It was during this encounter that my Atari loving, bespectacled buddy made a suggestion that nearly caused me to wet my pants. He said, “What you need to do is plug a G.P.S. dongle into that there computer; plug your computer into your van, go to “menu,” select “find location.” The computer will plot exactly where you are on the map. You can head for the hinterlands without ever getting lost…unless the computer crashes.”

Mind blown.

A world of unexplored roads and destinations had remained hidden from me by constraints inherent to the paper map concept. Those hidden treasures were now in my van, at my fingertips.

During the week I would study my map program. I would “thumbtack” obscure “un-driven-on” roads. I would “pinpoint” secluded “un-been-to” towns. Ultimately though, I was seeking out remote “un-eaten-at” Arby’s (or Arbi). “Studying” the map was fun. Fingers flying on the keyboard, eyeballs glued to the screen, left hand jockeying the mouse…it was a sight to behold…

Then came the magic moment.

It was time to click on “menu”…then select “create route.” The map program would then connect all of the pinpoints and thumbtacks between my house and Arbys. The particular map program I used at the time¹ connected all of these disjointed locations by highlighting the roadways between them with a strikingly fluorescent, bright green line.

When the weekend arrived it was time for “navigator Buffy” and me to strap in. We gathered up the computer, the GPS dongle and our appetite. It was 106 miles to Arby’s, we had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes², it was dark and we were wearing sunglasses. With that, we “hit it” and headed for some backroads in the backcountry.

This new, decidedly NOT old fashioned hobby was something Buffy conveniently dubbed as, “Green-Lining.”

During that particular era of life, Buffy worked with the high school youth at our church. Occasionally Buffy was tapped to deliver the youth “message.”

[A “message” is basically a “sermon”…but research (that I just made up) shows that youth (and others) react negatively to the word “sermon. ”]

Buffy put a lot of thought into her “messages.” She liked to infuse them with real world illustrations. As such, Buffy was always on the lookout for inspiration…and inspiration can strike in odd places at odd times…like while sitting in the passenger seat of an old van with a notebook computer in your lap.

Computerized maps of “The Old Days” [eye roll] marked highways and secondary roads in an obvious manner. However, “Third-ondary” roads (as I like to call them) were more of a crapshoot. Many of these third-string right-of-ways were, in reality, fourt-ondary and fifth-ondary roads. Nevertheless, a “non-main” road could be anything between a well maintained residential street and a dirt path through some cornfield. One drawback of the computer map was that these “lesser-roads” were all marked with the same nondescript gray line.

Buffy and I navigated a lot of these “almost-roads.” I can imagine we did so while being “monitored” by local woodspeople. Presumably, these country bumpkins hadn’t even discovered “a paper map”…much less “the computer map.” Having said that, these potentially hostile “hillfolk” probably DID have pick up trucks loaded with deer carcasses (or “carcai”); their long guns were probably loaded with buckshot and they, themselves, were probably loaded with moonshine. Who knows what could have happened!? Regardless, Buffy and I never ended up as a “Deliverance” outtake. Nothing ever happened. The “green line” always got us through.

After navigating one of these “deer trail/cow path” right-of-ways, it struck Buffy that “green-lining” might make a decent sermon illustration. Thus, the brainstorm session began.

Following the green-line might be able to represent something along the lines of “obedience” or “faith.” Maybe the computer could symbolize God? That seemed a little goofy. Maybe the computer could represent God’s word? Keep in mind, this was just a brainstorm session…the final product would need some work.

It seemed natural that the green-line would illustrate God’s plan. Maybe it would be a good idea to talk about people who “don’t use a map” and therefore weren’t following any green-line at all. Would it make sense to talk about “sharing the map program” with others? I don’t know…that metaphor sounded kind of lame.

I submitted the idea that Buffy and I were now following the same green-line since we had been united in marriage! Buffy rolled her eyes at that thought.

It seemed to me like the bulk of the message should emphasize “trust”: When the “green-line-almost-road” that God has laid out for you seems dangerous and hopelessly wrong…continue pressing through. Don’t worry about deer carcasses, being shot at or feeling lost in the corn! By following the green-line you will always be safely delivered…to Arby’s!

Buffy looked at me and blew a raspberry. That pretty much killed our brainstorm session.

I was really intrigued by this “green-line” message idea. I encouraged Buffy to write it. I even offered to help. I wasn’t actually serious about helping…but I offered. Writing stuff like that take time and energy. Unlike an “AUTHENTIC-old-fashioned” guy, I was more than willing to let somebody else do the work…namely Buffy.

Eventually, my green-lining sidekick/wife became a full-time mom. She no longer “strapped in” to the navigator’s seat beside me. She no longer worked with the youth. Time moved on. The “Green-Mile-Message” never materialized.

Maybe it’s just as well.

As I think about it now, the whole concept seems like it would have been a little cliché…especially if I was going to help write it (which I wasn’t).

I think the “Green Line Message” idea was just too simple: “seek out and follow God’s path.” I mean really? How far can you stretch that out?

I don’t know. It’s been decades since that little brainstorm session…but I still kind of wonder what the “message” would have sounded like.

Maybe there would have been some other “hidden” message buried inside that sermon. Perhaps something about how seemingly simple backcountry hill folk may have actually been worlds ahead of me when it came to “knowing about the map program.”

Maybe a “buried-message-hidden-within” could have been: “Believe it or not, heaven is better than Arby’s.”

Yet another possibility for a hidden message could have been something a tad more subtle, “Don’t wait around for somebody else to do what God has laid on your own heart.”

There’s a reason I don’t write crap like that. If I did, I probably would have opened with something about how I thought I was an “authentic-old-fashioned-guy.”

Because I loved paper maps…who knows where the ending would have landed?!? Probably some cringeworthy, over-the-top location like, “make-sure-to-enjoy-the-jalapeno-poppers-while-staying-on-God’s-road.” [eye roll]

Just be glad there’s no danger of anything hideous like THAT coming from me…I’ll be way too busy watching podcasts while stuffing my face with roast beef and curly fries.

¹Microsoft streets and trips

²Neither of us really smoked

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Convicted sex offender living in Federal prison finds Jesus; retains sense of humor while under misguided notion that he’s still relevant to society

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Convicted sex offender living in Federal prison finds Jesus; retains sense of humor while under misguided notion that he’s still relevant to society

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