Pope Francis recently completed his first international trip, a weeklong jaunt to Brazil that included adulation, spirituality and, if you were the pontiff's chauffeur, utter embarrassment.
Francis' driver, you may have heard, took a wrong turn while transporting the pope to the Rio de Janeiro city center. Okay, Francis didn't exactly end up in Peru -- the driver merely turned into lanes not designated for the official route -- but it left security forces scrambling to control a mob of Brazilians who suddenly found themselves face to face with the leader of the Catholic Church while the pope's vehicle idled in snarled traffic. The crowd clapped, cheered and, in unison, said, "See what we endure every day?"
Francis reportedly took the detour in stride, even though I'm sure he discretely slipped a note to his handlers: "Upon return to Rome, look into GPS ASAP." The pope after all is male, and we all know how frustrated men get when their chosen route is compromised.
I have to wonder what might have resulted had Francis gotten lost, I mean REALLY lost. Would he have encountered a group of youths playing soccer and asked for directions? Would he have asked anyone for directions? Again, this is a male we're talking about. Historians agree Christopher Columbus veered off course several times while searching for the New World. Luckily he got back on track, discovered America and paved the way for U.S. citizens to experience everything this country has to offer, including all-you-can-eat buffets, waterparks that can accommodate 3,000 sunburned, bathing suit-clad individuals and the opportunity to earn $150 million if you can sink jump shots or throw a curveball 60 feet, 6 inches.
History books might read far differently today if some of the most famous journeys inadvertently went left instead of right, north as opposed to south or even down rather than up. Imagine ...
November 15, 1864 -- Instead of marching east to the sea, Union Gen. William Sherman burns Atlanta and then mistakenly heads south toward Florida, destroying industry, infrastructure and personal property. Years later, an annual ritual known as "Sherman's Break" would be created, in which college students descend on the Sunshine State and basically repeat the process.
May 20, 1927 -- Charles Lindbergh takes off from Long Island, N.Y., and heads north rather than east. Eventually seeing lights over the Atlantic, Lindbergh touches down and becomes the first pilot in history to fly nonstop to Iceland.
February 9, 1964 -- The Beatles take a wrong turn en route to their historic live performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Faced with trying to fill 15 minutes of live air time, CBS quickly creates and airs the world's first infomercial. Seventy-three million television viewers abruptly change the channel.
July 24, 1969 -- Radioing to Mission Control that "from outer space, all this water looks alike," Apollo 11 astronauts complete their historic moon landing by mistaking Lake Michigan for the Pacific Ocean and splashing down just outside of Detroit. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors sign deals with NASA to build space vehicles for future explorations, and for the next 100 years, the city is praised for its economic prosperity and "well-managed" finances.
July 10, 1993 -- Unfamiliar with the Tour de France route, first-time competitor Lance Armstrong sways off course and tumbles over an Alpine cliff. Armstrong survives but is forced to retire from cycling. Dozens of cycling "doctors" seek other means of employment.
November 27, 2009 -- After pulling out of his driveway, Tiger Woods swerves and narrowly misses a tree and a fire hydrant. A few hours later, Woods returns and tells his wife Elin Nordegren that he had been looking for his cellphone, which inexplicably vanished. Woods goes on to win a dozen more major titles. In 2050, his phone is found at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://amzn.to/schwem. Visit Greg on the web at http://www.gregschwem.com.)