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Over the hill

May 29, 2009
By Bob Seidenstein,

When I was young, the Generation Gap was a huge problem. Now it's no problem at all because there's no gap between generations - at least not an obvious one. All ages can dress the same, and thanks to the wonders of modern cosmetic medicine, they can look the same, too.

People my age, with tucks, lifts, lipos, sets of veneers and brand-new rears, look decades younger. And any kid who doesn't look like a jaded 30-something by the time he or she is out of middle school is an abject failure, as are the parents for allowing it.

But no matter how much the generations look the same, they sure don't think the same, and this is most noticeable with technology. I found this out in Arizona when I visited my pal Jenny Dudones.

Article Photos

Jenny Dudones poses Sunday in front of red rocks outside Sedona, Ariz.
(Photo — Bob Seidenstein)

For years, Jenny and I had talked about doing a road trip and finally managed it last week. We'd booked accommodations in advance, so once I got there, I figured all we had to do was pack the car and hit the road. But there was another step I hadn't counted on - planning the route.

"OK," said Jenny, "now I've just got to find out the ZIP codes of the places we're going and I'll program the GPS."

"Whattaya need a GPS for?" I said. "We're only going three places."

"Yeah," she said, "but I love my GPS."

"You love it?" I asked. "How can anyone love a machine?"

"'Cause it talks to me, that's why," she said. "It tells me exactly where to go."

"Well, I can tell you exactly where to go, too, and you don't have to find out my ZIP code first."

"Very funny," she said. "But we still need to figure out how to get around."

"And we will," I said, "thanks to something you've probably never heard of."

"What's that?"

"A map," I said.

And having brought one with me, I charted out our course. Jenny was dubious at first, but after we made it to our first destination, Sedona, she started to have some faith in maps - even though she still had no idea how something that didn't use microchips or electricity could ever work.


All wet

The next day, when we left Sedona, we found ourselves in the midst of a meteorological anomaly - rain. Rain in Arizona in May? I feel about it the same way the military feels about sexual preference - don't ask, don't tell. What I will tell, however, is we traveled on Sedona's only northbound road - the narrow, winding Oak Creek Canyon road, with no guardrails but with lots of fog and drop-offs. Jenny drove the whole 50 miles and did an excellent job, but when we finally hit the interstate, she said she'd never drive that road again in the rain.

"Fine," I said. "But what if it's raining when we come back to Sedona?"

"Don't worry," she said. "It may rain one day in May, but it'll never rain two."

And it's a good thing she's a high-end decorator and not a meteorologist, because when we made the return run, it not only rained, but it hailed besides.

So the canyon road was out. This meant we had to take an interstate far south of Sedona before we could turn off into another northbound road. This would add at least 70 miles to the trip unless there was a shortcut. As fate and AAA would have it, there was one - an east-west 15-miler right off the interstate.

"I don't like it," said Jenny.

"What's not to like?" I asked.

"It might be a mistake," she said, "and you won't know it till you get there."

Little did I know that truer words had never been spoken.

The first sign I'd made a mistake was literal. In big black letters on a white background, it said: "Only 4-wheel-drive and ATVs on this road."

The next sign was the road itself, which was narrow, barely one lane wide, unpaved and ungraded.

The final sign were the shoulders. There were none, unless you counted the mud flats the rains had turned into swamps, perfectly suited for mud wrestling and submerging a car up to its roof, and perfectly unsuited for executing a three-point turn to get out of there.

This left us with only two options - going forward and praying for divine intervention.

A mile or so later, the road started uphill, leaving behind the swampy shoulders. Unfortunately, it also left behind all shoulders. We were now on an even narrower, boulder-strewn dirt road with a rock wall on one side and a several-hundred-foot drop-off on the other. It made the Oak Creek Canyon road look like the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Neither of us spoke. Jenny stared ahead grimly, hands clenched on the wheel, knots of jaw muscle bulging out the side of her face. I just sat there, doing deep breathing exercises between hits of digitalis.

Finally, Jenny spoke.

"OK, Vasco da Gama," she said, "how much farther to Sedona?"

I checked the map.

"About nine miles," I said.

"Nine miles," she said. "In other words, another hour."

"Give or take," I said, shrugging helplessly.

"Good thing we took the shortcut," she said.

As it turned out, while the shortcut aged both the car and us a bunch of years, it also gave us something we never could've had otherwise - spectacular views of the red rocks, which closely and completely surrounded us. That alone made the entire "adventure" worthwhile - or so I hoped.

When we got back to the motel in Sedona, I looked up the shortcut in my guidebook. Its official name is Schnebly Hill Road, and it was originally a cattle trail. Later, it became the first road to Flagstaff and, also according to the guidebook, "It appears no improvements have been made since its initial construction in 1902."

I also learned we weren't the only greenhorns who thought the Schnebly Hill Road was a time saver. According to the motel owner, lots of tourists take it since it's listed as a shortcut by many GPS systems.

I thus concluded that my navigations skills are as good as the GPS's. It was an intriguing thought. It was also one I wisely kept to myself.



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