SEVIERVILLE, Tn. — We name our things. It’s just something we do.
The old car was Joe the Truck, and he was a relaxed good ole boy who was always up for an adventure. The new one is Josephine, and she’s a bit haughty, a little hipster, but we’re learning to love each other. Sometimes I call her “Whoa, Nelly,” like when she’s speeding on narrow country roads.
The old GPS was Hester, named harshly because of her finger-wagging and guilt-tripping. When Hester added “out of date” to “cranky,” we upgraded her. The Tom-Tom has more bells and whistles (really), plus we can download celebrity voices, so we take John Cleese on every road trip with us. Although the new GPS knows more and does more than Hester did, we quickly learned he can be a little persnickety, too, with a tendency to stroke out every few thousand miles and give us several directions in one pukey mouthful.
Because of that, we named him Alpha, after a Joss Whedon character with multiple personalities. Alpha was also a sociopath and serial killer, but we weren’t really thinking that far ahead.
Lately he’s been losing the mental battle. His confidence is failing, so sometimes he replans our route midway through even though I’ve been loyally following every step. And there’s been a lag in his instruction-giving, so he tells me to make a turn only when we’re right on top of it going 120 km/h. On the parkway to Gatlinburg, he suddenly and insistently told me to “Turn left. Then, turn left. … Turn left.” There was a fast-running river to my left.
I could live with all that. We all have our quirks, right? That river thing was probably just an honest mistake.
The evening we arrived in Sevierville, all we needed him to do was get us quickly to our cabin. Melani double-checked our route with her phone, because she isn’t as trusting as I, and she said conversationally, “It’s interesting that there’s a 10-minute difference between what Alpha says and what Google says.”
I ignored her and listened to Alpha when he told me to turn left onto Dollywood Lane. I mean, come on, guys! We were in Dolly Parton’s hometown and we were going to drive on Dollywood Lane! Then, treat of treats, he told me to turn right again: Onto Boogertown Rd.
Boogertown Rd.? It was too good to be true.
It was, in fact, too good to be true. Alpha was screwing with us.
We took Boogertown to King’s Branch, through Boogertown Gap and on past Ski View Lane and nearly as far as Treebeard Way. Doesn’t sound so bad, except we were deep in the Smokey Mountains, creeping along one-and-a-half-lane trails without the two things I like best about roads. (Remember what those two things are? Shoulders and guardrails.)
It was dusk when we turned onto Boogertown and the sun dropped quickly with such a high, stoney horizon. If I have to drive hellishly twisted roads, I at least like to do it at dusk, when I can see headlights coming over a blind rise. My shoulders were aching, like they did that time I took a left at Leggett and had to force the truck through hairpin turns and S-curves that pointed nearly straight down.
We had rented a cabin in this mountain range before, though, so I was mentally prepared for these roads, guardrails or no. That time, I wasn’t as confident a driver and it nearly killed me. Alpha wasn’t with us that time, but he’s heard me talk about it. He knows how I feel about these roads. He knows how tired I am by the end of a hard driving day and that this weighty giant of a truck could tip right over if I miscalculated. He knows all that. I know he does.
So when we finally arrived at our mountain retreat, Melani looked up our location on Google Maps and discovered … Alpha had taken us several dangerous miles out of our way.
He tried to kill us. He tried to kill us on Boogertown Rd. He failed this time, but the good lord only knows what he’ll try next.