By Gary Lloyd
Google Maps bothers me, trying to get me to my destination in the quickest, most boring way possible. The audacity.
The app seemingly goes berserk when I miss an I-59 on-ramp to three lanes of 80 mph insanity and demands that I pull a U-turn on the spot, right there in Highway 11 traffic.
I never try that U-turn, for two reasons. First, because pulling a U-turn on Highway 11 only ends at the auto repair shop, swiping an American Express card for three months’ salary. Second, because I’ve skipped that particular on-ramp on purpose, knowing I can catch the next one in Roebuck, after I’ve driven past Huffman United Methodist Church on Gene Reed Road, where I grew up and played basketball.
Google Maps needs a “Roads Less Traveled” feature, one that focuses not on arrival times and fuel efficiency, but on good times and memory efficiency.
I often take what many call the “long way” to a destination. I call it the “purposeful way.”
When I cover a football game at Waldrop Stadium in Homewood, I try to park at the Greater Birmingham Humane Society for at least a few minutes and eat whatever fast food I’ve picked up as a pregame meal, to see a family walk out with its new rescue dog. When I travel to Willie Adams Stadium in Pinson, I leave early enough to pass through the gates at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, a hidden gem in our area. A trip to downtown Birmingham to file homestead exemption paperwork at the courthouse is not complete until I find Second Avenue West, where the oldest baseball park in America, Rickwood Field, still stands.
The same goes for Trussville. How could I not turn right onto Parkway Drive and pass through the historic Cahaba Project, to drive underneath that grand tree canopy, to see a New Deal-era project still so intact, so pure.
What good is it to simply coast down Highway 11 back toward Trussville without swinging by 85th Street South, where my paternal grandmother once lived, to ensure the home looks just as I remembered it as a boy? Why wouldn’t I cut through Valley Road to Highland Avenue to catch a glimpse of the former home of my maternal grandparents, to make certain the front yard is still immaculate? How could I not make a left onto Reid Drive from Queenstown Road and climb the steep hills that I once pedaled with ease as a high-metabolism teenager, just to see if the Normans’ brown van is still in the driveway, to verify that the street light beside my old driveway still flickers in the evening?
I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, and I’m not quite sure why. I suppose I have a gravitation to the past, for times long tucked away in dusty photo albums and fading memories. It’s likely why I write about them now, to keep them alive somehow, in newsprint and book pages.
Driving by these places, taking these roads less traveled, doesn’t get me where I need to go any faster. But it sure feels more important.
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.