A Failure To Communicate With The Expert

My wife, Anne, has two Aunt Pats. That becomes confusing, and many years ago I dubbed one of them Crazy Aunt Pat. Not because she is crazy, but simply because she is a smart, bold person who is afraid of nothing and I needed a way to distinguish her from the other who is equally wonderful. She lives in Oregon, but is a regular visitor to the East Coast and she has driven cross country many a time starting just after WWII and has done it on her own into her eighties.

My daughter just became a freshman at University of Washington, and my wife and I decided to take the time to drive her there to allow us to finally have our first cross country road trip.

Anne calls Crazy Aunt Pat to tell her we are West Coast bound and asked our family cross country expert for good stopping points along the way. Crazy Aunt Pat said: “There is one stop that really stands out. It is a house in Spring Green, Wisconsin, I cannot think of the name right now, but it is the town where Frank Lloyd Wright’s house is. It is a four hour stop to see it all, but make sure you do not miss it.”

Anne makes a mental note of this and we set off. We leave our stop in Chicago, and are Wisconsin bound. Anne has two points of interest notes for the Wisconsin section of the trip; the Wisconsin Dells and the house in the Frank Lloyd Wright town (neither of which are related to the picture, yet). We are moving along nicely and it feels good to make miles in the first few days. I am in the navigator seat juggling the map, dealing with bad AT&T data connections and doing research on those places. I make a first Google pass at Frank Lloyd Wright and Spring Green, Wisconsin and up comes Taliesin. I know what that is; that is Frank Lloyd Wright’s country home and crazy architectural school. The place of the murders and wild parties and great architecture. Really interesting, but not enough time. We are making fast miles and decide to check out the Wisconsin Dells, which we can see from the car with just a minor detour. The Wisconsin Dells was not that special and now Anne and I feel somewhat bad. We did not follow Crazy Aunt Pat’s expert suggestion. We did not follow the advice from the best cross country consultant around and you should always mind your consultant; that is what they are for. We decide to make a real effort to hit it on the way back.

The trip was great, University of Washington starts late, and, in mid and late September, the road and its attractions were ours. We drop our daughter off and on the way back, seeing additional interesting sights, exercising our National Parks pass and meeting many interesting people, arrive in Galena, Illinois. Galena is one of the most amazing towns in the United States. Newport, Rhode Island defines US Colonial architecture; Galena defines Civil War architecture, and, to top it off, is US Grant’s and Ely Parker’s adopted hometown. Best of all, it is only a short distance from Taliesin, so the next morning it will allow us to arrive there early and give us plenty of time to see it all.

The next morning we set off on back roads and at about the halfway mark drive by a derelict Stratocruiser with “Don Qinn” painted on the side with big letters. This is one of those great American roadside moments. I see the huge airplane, and go: Wow, that is a Stratocruiser and, look, it is even open with a staircase going in it. We pass it and I say to Anne: “I gotta check it out.” Anne always gives in to my gear head whims and we turn the car around. There, in front of a motel, is a four engine aircraft. The motel is very quiet with maybe three cars and a Harley with a man standing next to it in the lot, and here sits this aircraft. It turns out it is the Stratotanker version, with the military interior and the stern ramp. It has been there since 1977, and according to photos and signs inside, had been used in a Farrah Fawcett Mercury Cougar commercial back then. It was beat up. It had been flown into a tiny airstrip, towed in front of the hotel, fitted with a stair for viewers to enter the plane and just sat there for over forty years. Still it was supercool, with bird’s nests, most of the cockpit intact, shredded and rotted canvas seating, a real roadside superstar.

I am reading the signs and Anne is taking some pictures, and in walks the man next to the Harley. I express my awe and the gentleman tells me he has been coming to this motel for years. The hotel was filled with all types of unusual features and the rooms were themed with odd themes. Anyway, he seemed like a person who liked crazy things, and he said: “But this is nothing; about 10 miles down the road there is this place called the House on the Rock. It is filled with even crazier things; it is really worth a stop.” We say goodbye and get back into the car. About 10 miles down the road we see the sign for the House on the Rock. We quickly debate checking it out, but we are on a mission to see Taliesin and that is only a few miles further down the road.

We get to Taliesin. It is very artsy; the visitor center was actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We walk in and walk to the desk where there is a rather uppity but very knowledgeable tour guide, and he explains that a tour of the school and the house takes over two hours and costs $52 per person. Kind of pricey actually. We saw the place from the outside, it is very beautiful and so is the inside of the visitor center. The other people there are the retired lawyer/architect/film producer types. Not really Crazy Aunt Pat’s place, but let’s not forget the murder and crazy parties aspect of this place. We take the tour and it is really fun, interesting, beautiful and impressive. Anne buys a post card to send to Crazy Aunt Pat to tell her the Veni Vidi Vici thing and we have lunch in the visitor center and four hours later we get back on the road.

That night we stop, Anne mails the post card and Anne calls her Mom to give her an update. Her Mom is Crazy Aunt Pat’s sister. My in-laws really enjoy the idea of our trip and love getting periodic reports. Anne turns on the speaker phone and tells her we stopped at the place Aunt Pat recommended in Spring Green. My mother-in-law says: “Yes, the House on the Rock.” Anne and I pause but we think: “Wait a minute, we hadn’t heard about the House on the Rock until this morning. How can Anne’s Mom know about the House on the Rock?” We ask her: “Hold it, where did you get that name?” Anne’s mom goes:”Well, that is the place that Aunt Pat thinks is so great.”

Yes, you may scroll back up to see what happened, but here is the outcome:

1. We were provided with the correct place to visit, but, by distraction, we did not.

2. For about five hours we felt really good. On the westward leg we did not do what Crazy Aunt Pat told us, but on the way home we made a special effort to take the advice of an expert.

3. Another expert keyed us in on the correct destination, but we ignored him.

4. In our rush to our incorrect objective, we ignored clues that would have resulted in a correction.

5. Next we discovered we had, so far, driven about 5500 miles and missed one of our main targets by about five miles. (That, by the way, is excellent engineering accuracy with an error of less than 0.1%.)

6. Crazy Aunt Pat will get a post card that says: “We did what you recommended.” And  she will wonder why we sent her a postcard of Taliesin instead of the House on the Rock.

7. After checking on the internet, the House on the Rock really looked interesting and undoubtedly Crazy Aunt Pat had a good reason to recommend it to us, even though I think she might have enjoyed Taliesin too.

To me this is a great story. Most stories require villains. This story has no villains, simply well meaning people who ended up dealing with information that was just a teeny little bit incomplete. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but in my business we are not always so fortunate. So here is the moral of the story: Always, always make sure you really understand what your experts tell you, or before you know it you will end up in the wrong place, and your experts will wonder how you ended up there.