“Gary’s Medal and Other Navigation Stories”

While driving in unfamiliar areas, I always appreciate the good skills of a true Navigator. When Vicky & I travel in the car, I usually have to fill the dual role of Pilot AND Navigator; she says she gets carsick if she reads while in a moving car – which means she cannot look at a map at all. But then, I don’t even think she can read a map. I’m going to get in trouble here with a sexist remark but I firmly believe navigating is not a skill listed under ‘Women’s Talents’. I cite Amelia Earhart as a prime example: her poor navigation killed her. (Actually, her navigator was a man but let’s just keep that a secret…)

My old friend, Rusty Owens, and I have known one another since high school. Rusty & I always loved road trips which we took many of in our younger years. He & I were good traveling buddies and we thrived on new adventures from wrong turns and missed highways. Rusty came to visit while we lived in Paris. Rusty assumed the role of Navigator and studied the maps with great interest. He did an excellent job of getting us to where we needed to go as I drove him all over France and Switzerland:

“Your going to need to turn in about…” Rusty said as he scrutinized the map then turned his head to follow the road sign we just passed, “right back there…”

“That was our turn we just passed?” I asked with mild concern…

“Fuck it. Let’s just see where this road takes us,” Rusty said with a chuckle and a grin as he tossed the map onto the floorboard of the car.

And so was our navigational philosophy: Do your best to make the most efficient route, keeping in mind that scenery is a high priority, and if you discover you missed a turn, do your best not to have to turn around and backtrack – forge a new route!

I could never use this navigational philosophy with Vicky. It is not part of her personality. If you miss a turn, you go back and make the correct one. But since I was usually acting Navigator while she was in the passenger seat, I kept my navigational philosophic strategies to myself. That is not to say that Vicky does not always question my decisions; Even without a map in front of her, she usually inquires: “Are you sure this is the right way?”

I am also reminded of a funny incident when Vicky & I lived in Brussels; Bebe, Jay and Barbara were visiting and we were making a drive to Paris for the weekend. It was my first time driving to Paris and I was nervous about the whole idea. To alleviate pressures of multi-tasking, I elected Jay as Navigator and knew he would be an excellent one.

Jay had his nosed buried in a Paris city map as we drove closer and closer into the city. The traffic was pretty intense and my palms were sweating. Despite the fact that I was a vetran driver of the highways of Puerto Rico, this was pretty taxing on me. But the knowledge that I had a very capable person telling me where to go eased the burden.

“Robert,” Jay said with an air of confidence, “we should be coming up on the Rhine River real soon…”

“You mean the SEINE !” we all shouted – in unison – in response.

At that moment, Jay took a serious bump on my navigational scale. Although I allowed him to continue map-reading duties, I paid more attention to street signs and road numbers.

in 1993, artist friends, Gary Ahrens and Monica Laird, came to visit us in Paris from their home in Puerto Rico. We made a trip to Normandy and the Loire Valley. Gary instinctively rode shotgun and filled the role as Navigator. Gary was very thorough with this job and I never questioned any command he gave me. This is not to say that there were frquent suggestions from the back seat…

Gary did a wonderful job. I occasionally commended him on his job and we laughed that he paid no attention to the beautiful French countryside we were passing through – he was soley concerned with the map and the applicable highways and road numbers we came upon.

We had an enjoyable trip. Once back in Paris and the day before Gary & Monica were flying back to Puerto Rico, I got up early one morning and went to an antique shop in our little neighborhhod in the 7th Arrondissement; I had seen some medals in the store window and thought they would be perfect for Gary’s Navigator’s award. I typed up an accompanying certificate and doctored it up with stamps and signatures to make it official-looking. We presented the medal to Gary at a restaurant that night. He was a good sport and accepted it with beaming pride. He even wore his medal all through dinner.

The next morning at the aiport, I bid them farewell and wished them a pleasant flight back home. Gary reminded me that if the pilot had any problems, he was an experienced “Navigateur” with French training AND a medal; he would have no problem stepping into the position should the occasion arise…

I was recently cleaning house in my computer and ran across this image. Here is the certificate & medal I awarded Gary Ahrens for his brave, navigational skills:

“Gary’s Medal”, 2003, photographic scan by Robert Leedy

It reads:

“Cher Monsieur Gary Ahrens,

En accordance with les Union des Navigateurs National de France, Je suis tres proud a vous presenter la medal extrordinaire – le Grand Navigateur – which recognizes toutes les merits de le skills exceptionelle de Voyageurs Gringos de Puerto Rico.

Votre bravery and skills were put to le extreme test en les routes de Normandie et la Vallee de Loire – proving your place in le histoire des les best of the best des Navigateurs de le Monde.

Vous etes now one of the best France has ever seen!

Robert Leedy, Pilot Principal

Monica Laird, Artiste Exceptional avec la malade des voitures

Vicky, Ex Navigateur”

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