Life's little journeys - Michael Davis

Some roads you take in life are pretty difficult to navigate. You're barreling along at about 80 miles per hour and all of the sudden you see a sign announcing there's a major detour up ahead.

Trouble is, you haven't allowed enough time for a detour.

As I'm writing this, I'm in a hotel room in Memphis, sipping coffee and reading through the local paper, (and a complimentary copy of USA Today) and trying to muddle through how I'm going to get back to Atlanta. And when I should leave.

I should leave the hotel by noon, that much is certain. Because if I don't, the nice man at the front desk is going to charge me for an extra bed (which I don't need), another night of free cable and all the ice I can stand.

But getting here was a bit of an adventure. Like most of life's little journeys, you hope to have things mapped out, at least to a degree.

I knew heading out that I would take Interstate 20, which runs east and west through the middle of Atlanta, for a good ways out, at least until I got to Birmingham. Then I would take a right on U.S. 78. That's where the journey begins.

You travel through the middle of downtown Birmingham, if you're not careful. Not that there's anything wrong with downtown Birmingham. In fact, I found it to be quite charming. Several of the streets are lined with decorative, faux antique lamp posts and the downtown "business" district is clearly marked as such with banners strung from street lights and light posts. They even have a tall building or two there.

But if you're not careful in how you get there, you might spend a little more time there than you bargained for. And this could be a problem.

In one of the transportation department's more cruel and unusual tricks, the main highway snakes its way through the city's otherwise perfectly sensible gridded streets. You know, the kind that run north-south and east-west.

But no, not the main road. It runs both north-south and east-west.

Take a right, then a left, then another right and another left if you want to keep tabs on it and not get disturbingly lost. Pay close attention to the signs, not the blondes and brunettes and redheads.

If you can manage to keep a careful look-out for all of the signs, you can generally maintain your direction, if you're so inclined, and not be seduced by the fairer aspects of the city.

If you do enough driving, I believe you eventually develop a pretty good sense of your general direction. You may not be cognizant of whether you're going north or south, and if it's dark, even less so, but you know if it's the "right" direction (or left direction, depending on your political persuasion..

When I made my way to Memphis, after a long and tedious (euphemisms for boring and desolate) drive, I knew I would have to take this city's interstate perimeter. And from the looks of the maps I had seen on the computer, it looked as if it were in a northerly direction I should head.

Ah, but I should've learned my lesson in Birmingham: don't trust the highway department.

When I got to the interstate ramp, there were two options: east and west. "What about north-south?" I asked myself, rhetorically. I took a gamble and maintained my lane. When you're out of town, and forced to choose, always maintain the status quo until you figure out what's going on.

And sure enough, I had picked wrong. I didn't realize if for minute, caught up in their version of rush-hour on the perimeter, Saturns and Dodges weaving in and out of traffic. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But I could just feel that I was heading in the wrong direction. Something told me, despite what the highway sign said, I was heading south.

The lesson in all of this: Trust your gut, but make sure you can turn around if you pay too much attention to any signs, regardless of how right (or left) they might be.

Michael Davis covers government for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at mdavis@henryherald.com .