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" … because it's a SecretPassage if we go this way."

Home lies at one end of a SecretPassage, a route only the homeowner ever knows exists. Long proximity to the place eventually revealed this route which always existed, awaiting discovery by someone dedicated to finding it. Once discovered, only its discoverer knows its there and no one else ever suspects its presence. Everyone else sticks to the arterials, figuring that herd wisdom will serve them well enough. The consequent traffic jams seem simply the price of inhabiting the place. The homeowner snickers while slipping around.

I have long reveled in my SecretPassage knowledge, perhaps the one element distinguishing me from the madding crowd.
It helps that I despise freeway travel and consider being stuck in traffic a serious personal failing. I favor the unlikely shortcut, one discovered in some moment of impending extremis. These often prove to follow something other than the shortest route between two points, and might even take longer, but they offer deeper and more subtle satisfactions, primary among them being an obvious absence of traffic congestion. My hometown features innumerable SecretPassages. Odd little shortcuts only the locals know about. The surprise little footbridge over the creek. The unpaved lane linking neighborhoods. The unlikely alternative almost nobody seems to travel. These are my primary pathways.

When we exiled to DC, I immediately noticed my lack of such local knowledge. I'd leave our temporary digs to explore without a map, hoping to get good and lost, understanding that SecretPassages most often appear when I'm trying to get found again and before I come to know better. I could get lost just turning any corner it seemed to me then, and so the early days provided plenty of opportunities for me to get found again. Over time, I developed the only map ever worth anything, an internal map based entirely upon experience and serious misconception. My personal map of that metropolitan area matches nobody else's and sometimes serves me poorly, but it's rife with SecretPassages, which makes it superior to any other.

About a year into exile, I began to feel confident in my emerging internal map. Before then, I'd often find myself crossing the same bridge three times to finally cross the Potomac once, finally learning the trick inadequate signage ill-prepared me to learn. I learned to, without external prompting, slide left across two traffic lanes to avoid being shunted back over the river once I'd crossed it, local knowledge no map knows the first thing about. By the time I gained access to electronic maps when driving, I was continually shocked at just how wrong they were, for they'd suggest obvious and logical routings, inevitably the least optimal way from anywhere to anywhere else. The Muse grew annoyed with me as I came to consider it a point of personal pride when the GPS map would be constantly recalculating a route I would never think of taking. I could never convince the software that I knew where I was going and I almost never accepted the map's well-intended but utterly wrong-headed suggestions. The Muse would eventually just turn off the damned thing, robbing me of my snarky reassurances that I knew the better way. "Route recalculating" is music to my ears!

Home is where the internal map guides. Locals snake through unlikely streets in the sure and certain knowledge that they know the better way. They've been there long enough to have been good and lost then good and found plenty of times, and their experience taught them how to traverse their topography. No visitor or newcomer ever understands, or ever could understand. The SecretPassages remain secret partly because they would not make believable fiction, let alone acceptable reality. They make no sense to anyone not thoroughly conditioned by experience and lore. When my mom was in a nursing home recovering from surgery, I'd chauffeur my dad over to visit her each day. The nursing home was a scant dozen block away, but I decided to go a different way each day. Thanks to my hometown's many alleys, I was able to fully satisfy my intention. "Why are we going this way?," my dad would ask. "Because it's different," I'd reply, "and because it's a SecretPassage if we go this way."

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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