Lawrence Lenhart

Azimuth as a Myth: A Lyric Algorithm for an Off-Brand GPS

Lawrence Lenhart

I

Today, a solar flare is scheduled to cause disruptions in electromagnetic fields. The filament in the sun’s Corona will affect transmissions to receivers. Some models of GPS may present drivers with counterintuitive directions. Drivers are advised to cross-reference travel itineraries with analog maps. Beware: certain adapters not recommended for use with this product. Those made in Cambodia and Vietnam for instance. If the unit short circuits, it will trigger a deleterious algorithm.

II

If my GPS ever glitches (best-case scenario): I hope it takes me through a guardrail gap to the high desert plains. I want to go where professional drivers drift and weave sports cars and luxury sedans through soft sand coulees, narrowly missing strategically positioned cameramen. Imagine my meek commercial bomb due to GPS malfunction, a CR-V only one pixel tall floating left to right in Arizonan Tunisia. I’ll be primetime’s best-kept secret in the background of Audi’s depiction of nowhere. If my GPS ever glitches (worst-case scenario): if it dictates a hairpin turn that isn’t there and my tires scream off a sheer cliff, I will blame (in this order): the voice actor whose phonemes have been strung into geosemantic units; the programmer whose negligence is as good as manslaughter; the sun and its solar flare; a technophilic culture that conspired to encourage my father—a man who is neither predisposed to give nor receive gifts—to purchase and gift me the off-brand GPS that acted more as weapon than navigation system. He shook my hand and said, “Make sure you program it before you hit the road.”

III

NOTHING, AZ (road to nowhere) / I am trying to resolve the paradox of “the road to nowhere.” Off Arizona Highway 93, there is a place called Nothing. The village, once inhabited by four people, is now completely abandoned. Next to the sole garage, there’s a sign that reads “Nowhere, Arizona.” The sign sits on terra, faithfully adheres to the coordinate plane: 34°28’47”N’ 113°20’7”W’. The road to Nothing approaches nowhere like an asymptote, continuously destining.

IV

In Pixar’s Cars, the anthropomorphized racecar protagonist Lightning McQueen tells his agent, “I’m in this little town called Radiator Springs. You know Route 66? It’s still here!” It’s a giddy moment. The relic route is resurrected. I paused the movie and stood up for the first time all day just to look at the parked cars at Tucson High’s stadium lot. Lightning’s agent dismisses the detour as play, though. “Yeah, that’s great, kid. Playtime is over, pal.”

V

KINGMAN, AZ (wrong turn) / It is getting harder and harder to get lost. North of Nothing, after breakfast in Kingman, Cory and I—on our way to Vegas—miss the entrance ramp for the highway. We end up in an alley. There are chipped statues of Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe. There are fenced pit bulls pacing their lots. A half-dozen lawn mowers are queued under a carport. Neither of us wonders why so many mowers despite all yards being all dirt. At the end of the alley, we make a dead-end turn and face a piece of graffitied plywood that reads: You miss you. One of us starts to cry. Later in memory, we say we didn’t stop at the plywood, but burst through it.

VI

If you really scrutinize a map, you may be lucky enough to find a phantom settlement, a copyright trap inserted by cartographers to catch would-be plagiarists. The cartographer knows what it takes to be unlocatable. To be a phantom. To be a timorous population of one. I hope the last person on Earth was a solipsist all along.

VII

LAS VEGAS, NV / Fuck Las Vegas.

VIII

When I received a $350 fine for driving alone in the HOV lane in Phoenix, I half-joked with the officer, asked if she would consider considering the GPS a sort of passenger. She nearly gave me a field sobriety test. It is a peculiar disappointment to have someone take your half-joke as full-joke. GPS is the invisible woman. GPS is She-PS is fantasy lover, fetishized machine, keeping company on remote stretches. GPS is Marco, and I am pulling over to imagine the actual distance between us, not as a cupric cartoon vein on a map, but an untraveled pastoral inverse. Sometimes, it feels as if I’m stalking her, chasing her to the destination, where she is waiting with champagne or ice water. She teases with coquettish directives. I imagine her battery life (73%) in parallel flux as I caffeinate then fatigue, caffeinate then fatigue. I imagine she looks like a solar flare, an orb of intense brightness exceeding the visible light spectrum. I imagine she looks like my ex-fiancée who’s left me for Tonopah, Nevada—a superscript of white joules extended from the solar limb, sequestered in silo. Out of sight, detonated in mind.

IX

Plagiarism templates courtesy of Thompson, Kerouac, and Steinbeck: We were somewhere around [place name], on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold… With the coming of [person name] began the part of my life you could call my life on the road… When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that [abstract concept] would cure this itch…

Kingman

Cory

self-actualization

Nothing

Cory

marriage

Las Vegas

Cory

apocalypse

Seligman

Cory

Dào

Tonopah

Cory

Gold Bond Rapid Relief Anti-Itch Cream

X

SELIGMAN, AZ (birthplace of a road) / “IMG_1077.jpg” has endured several rounds of deletion due to its enigmatic right corner blur. I set the self-timer, propped the camera on the side-view mirror, and sprinted toward the sign, announcing Seligman (population: 456) as “Birthplace of Route 66.” There is a blur following me like the tail of a comet. I leaned on the left side of the sign. My ex-fiancée leaned on its right. As if both of us were holding it up. The six feet of aluminum sign felt like the halfway point to the 619 miles that would soon divide us. Months after the photo was taken, Route 66 became road-cum-severer, road-cum-culprit, road-cum-perpetrator of long distances, eternal dotted span with manifold mirages of ferret, horse, and hare. I’ve known a road to be a kind of weapon. I’ve used the road as an excuse (look, its cruel magnitude). I’ve held the road up as an emblem of withdrawal. Before we left Seligman, we listened to a family with three squealing kids encircling salvaged cars. The boy’s father quoted Lightning McQueen from Cars in his best Owen Wilson-as-Lightning impression: “You’ve got more talent in one lug nut that a lot of cars has got on their whole body.” The eldest son asked what a lug nut was, and the father tried to explain. The film’s fictional town, Radiator Springs, was based on the main drag of Seligman. My ex-fiancée and I eavesdropped as the children asked naïve questions about the remoteness of Seligman, about the disuse of Route 66. Based on their answers, it was unclear if the parents found Seligman romantic or revolting.

XI

NEVADA NATIONAL SECURITY SITE, NV (classified roads) / In Nye County, Nevada (home to the largest zero-population land tract of the 2000 United States census, home to Tonopah too), the cell phone dead zones stretch for miles. Here, it really is just me with GPS. She disappears at times, goes searching for signal while I count Joshua trees. There are margins made of stainless steel, guardrails keeping me from stray. I heed the dotted line. The narcoleptic truckers percuss the rumble strip like a rubber-buffeted alarm. Delta sleep deficiencies. Technology will return as sweetheart, beguile with humanoid phonemes, count down miles and minutes. Car acoustics. I eat the fig paste cookies (hot from console oven) and four sticks of cinnamon chewing gum. While on tour of the Nevada National Security Site, the van visits the crater pocks left behind by kiloton blasts still coated with residual radiation. We’re shown photos of the mushroom-tipped clouds and war-era propaganda in support of nuclear proliferation. We drive the perimeter of a containment area of low-grade nuclear waste. The network of discreetly labeled roads is a careful history lesson, but my eyes are drawn to the periphery of the tour, to the carefully avoided roads that we bypass, TS/SCI roads requiring DOD credentials, roads leading to inaccessible sites with well-guarded military, nuclear, and UFO secrets, roads whose destinations are civilian nowheres. Not even Google Earth permits.

XII

Map says, You are here. But even when I’m not, even when I’m elsewhere, the map’s text is static, insisting. Sometimes, when no one is looking at the map, the map speaks to no one, says to no one, You are here, even when no one is intrinsically nowhere. I crave a map that can show me—precisely and efficiently—where I am not, to infect me with longing, wanderlust. When looking into the rear-view mirror—the picture window and its delicate inventory—geography and time are compressed. Passed becomes past becomes


LAWRENCE LENHART received his MFA from the University of Arizona, but funny—he could never find the campus. On his way, he swerved onto Mount Lemmon Highway, a road exactly a marathon in length, ascending from saguaro valley to ponderosa forest, bypassing biomes (“bear crossing” + hoodoo + Cookie Cabin) to the southernmost ski slope in the continental US, where kind fathers go to fill truck beds with snow in winter, where mint grows wild and Christian Mandarin choirs occupy groves to investigate alpine acoustics. When he came down from the mountain, Lawrence became reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM and taught creative writing at the University of Arizona.

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