In my family and with other folks I know, I am notorious for my poor sense of direction. If it wasn't so horrendously bad, I might have driven myself nuts over it a long time ago; as it is, however, the fact that my navigation skills are so poor just seems incredibly funny to me1. I tend to quip "My sense of direction is so bad, I get lost in a walk-in closet." But in truth, it's not all that much better, as you'll see by some of the most memorable incidents in my past below:
1Ironically, I was in charge of the navigation control segment of a fairly recent Navy ship's design at my old job.
Shortly after I got my drivers' license many years ago, my family was visiting my grandparents' house in Harrisburg, PA. I volunteered to borrow my grandparents' car to return some soon-to-be-overdue movies to the video store, which was only a few miles (and about three traffic lights) away from their house. I made it to the store just fine, but on the way back, I turned left one light too early.
Not only did I not realize my mistake right away, I made matters worse by trying to figure out, on the fly, how to cut through some neighborhoods to get into my grandparents' neighborhood from the back way. My first mistake? Not knowing that my grandparents' neighborhood didn't HAVE a back way. Second, and probably most fatal to my cause – not deciding to backtrack until after I had gotten myself completely lost and had racked up close to an hour driving "just a few miles there and back to the video store". My family STILL won't let me live that one down.
As you might recall, I ran Cross Country back in high school. One of our regular 5k races took place in a park in (I believe) Port Angeles, Washington. I was the fastest runner on my team, and quite possibly the fastest at the entire race. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to find out if that was the case.
At the gun, I took off and had a fantastic lead going into the second mile. It was at this point that I realized that the well-marked trail I had assumed we were going to run on was not quite so well-marked. There were people on the sides of the trail clapping and cheering as I ran by, and looking ahead, I saw that the path forked, but couldn't see any markings or indication of which way to go. I shouted out at some of the people "Which way do I go?" but the few that responded didn't know. I took the trail to the left, which was about twice the width as the one to the right, and seemed the more likely route.
It still seemed the most likely route as I ran along the slightly sloping downhill trail…all the way to a dead-end lookout point overlooking the beach that was about 150 feet below me, down the steep cliffside. I turned around and slogged my way back up the hill and off on the other fork of the trail. The other racers and the cheering crowds had all passed by already, of course. I ended up catching up to a few of the laggards near the end of the race, but my team that year joked that I was the only racer they ever knew who chose to run 4.5 miles in a 3.1 mile race.
My wife and I were put up by my company in temporary housing for a month when we first moved down to Baltimore. We were already staying at a furnished apartment north of the city when the place in the Inner Harbor that we wanted to stay at opened up, so we packed our two cars and drove down into the city to the apartment high-rise…or at least, that's what we attempted to do.
I hadn't had a printer or internet accessible at the time to print out MapQuest directions, but the address of the place was on a prominent street, and I knew there were parking garages in the area. I pulled out my trusty PAPER map and tracked the roads we needed to take to get there on it, and off we went – Dee in her Mitsubishi Montero Sport and me in my Honda CRV – each of us loaded to the gills with everything we needed and/or couldn't have the movers transport for us. We had a pair of walkie-talkies to communicate with along the way. Dee followed me, as I had the map and the address (you think she would have learned about my sense of direction by then, but I can't blame her for the horrific time yet to come).
Everything was going swimmingly until Dee realized that we had gone a couple miles through downtown beyond what we should have been – it turns out the street I was looking out for to turn onto didn't actually intersect with the road we were on – instead it went under our road via an underpass, and there wasn't even an indication that we had passed it by. Whoops! We were almost through the center of the city and out the other side when Dee called me on the radio and we pulled over at a gas station to look at the map. We couldn't figure out what had gone wrong at the time, but realized that all we really had to do to get back on track was make a U-turn, then turn right a few miles back in order to get down to the Inner Harbor area, and then we could hit the street where our apartment building was located on the way back towards where we had come from.
We got back in the cars and back on the road. All the intersections had "No U-Turn" signs, so I finally got tired and decided to turn left into one of the neighborhoods – I figured we'd turn around in a driveway or something, get back on the road going the other way, and be good to go. Except the neighborhood I turned us into (my wife following along behind me) was a ghetto. No, I take that back, not a ghetto. If the neighborhood had had a sign out front, it would have said "THE GHETTO OF BALTIMORE". As in, the last place my wife and I should have been driving slowly through, trying to figure out where/how to turn around and get the hell out of there.
There were about 5 or 6 guys swaggering down the middle of the street in the same direction we were going, not paying any attention that we were on the road behind them. My wife came over the radio, "WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT HONK AT THEM!" I radioed back, "Yeah, I wasn't planning on it. I'm going to turn right at this street up here, it looks like I can make a right, then another right and we'll be back on the road." I turned right. And found myself at a dead-end about a quarter-mile up the road. I quickly got on the radio and told my wife not to come that way, as we'd only both be forced to turn around. She was freaking out about driving through the neighborhood at this point (essentially by herself, as I was still backing and filling on a 47-point-turn), and I could hear the panic in her voice.
She told me she was taking the next left-turn and trying to double-back around. As I sped down the road to catch up to her, I heard her say over the radio, "Ohmigod Ross, the road splits ahead, I don't know which way to go which way should I go I'm going to freak out here WHY THE HELL DID YOU TAKE US BACK HERE AHHHHHHHH!" (Ok, maybe I'm embellishing a little, but you get the point.) I caught up to her, told her to pull over and I passed her, took the left-split after I made sure this time that it actually DID lead back to the main road, and we got out of there under the dirty looks of some of the same guys that had been in our "welcoming party" to the neighborhood.
Of course, by the time we got into the Inner Harbor, the Orioles game traffic had started to pile up, and the traffic cops were in effect everywhere (yes, yes, my bad idea to move the day of an O's game, I know, I know). We crawled through traffic until I saw the street we needed to turn onto to get to the apartment building. We turned and made our way slowly up the street, trying to find the building. And we went well past the address before we both acknowledged that there was absolutely NO WAY we had seen the building's name or address on the street.
At this point, nerves shot and tempers flaring, I made the decision that we'd go around the Inner Harbor loop again, and this time enter and park in the parking garage that was right near the turn onto the street the building was supposed to be located on. I figured we would have better luck walking than trying to navigate the traffic, so 15 mind-numbing minutes later, we made our way around the block and into the garage. We took a deep breath and strolled up the street to where the building should be…and found it. Or rather, we found the SIDE of the building – the entrance (with the name, address, door, etc) was on the cross-street, and there would have been absolutely no way in hell we would have found it while in the car. We went in, got the keys to the apartment, and I left Dee there to relax while I went and moved our cars into the building's parking garage, which ALSO was on the cross-street. That evening we went out to eat, vented at the world, and had a pleasant meal with liberal applications of booze. All in all, not a bad end to an otherwise horrific day.
For those of you screaming "GOD! Get a GPS unit already!" – Well, I now have one (thanks Mom and Dad!) but it hasn't entirely solved the problem. It seems my navigational difficulties transcend even the aid of technology in some cases. Like the time my wife and I went out to eat in Hershey, PA, at the Hershey Grill.
We looked up the address of the restaurant online, and I entered the name (and checked the address) into my GPS, got the directions, and looked good to go. In the mindset of "better safe than sorry" I had also copied down the phone number to the restaurant and brought that with me, just in case. Off we went, proceeding cautiously due to the rainy weather and the increased traffic from the Dave Matthews concert that was playing at the Hershey stadium that evening. I followed the directions into Hershey proper, and we were coming up on the final turn when Dee, who had been to the Hershey Grill once before said, "This doesn't really look familiar. Where is the restaurant again?"
I said that the website gave the address shown on the GPS, and said it was on the corner of X and Y streets. At which point she sighed and said that we had passed Y street about 4 miles back. Although I had a sinking feeling in my chest, we were only a half-mile away from the GPS endpoint, so I decided to persevere. I turned left at the prompted traffic light…and ended up in a large parking lot that looked like it pulled double duty for a train station and some of the corporate buildings that surrounded it. Pretty sure at this point that my directional curse had rubbed off on the GPS, I parked the car, called the restaurant, and got explicit directions from the woman who answered the phone. Sure enough, 4 miles back the way we had come, we turned onto Y street, and pulled into the restaurant parking lot soon thereafter.
My biggest problems, as you can probably see from the above, are usually not from trying to get from point A to point B, but rather when I try to forge my own path from somewhere along the way (call it point C). When I do this, I usually end up at point Z, named as such because it's about as far away as you can possibly get and still remain in the same zipcode as points A and B. Unfortunately, there's no effective way to get past this short of driving the route to familiarize myself with it, having a map (and GPS) with me, and taking the time to backtrack if need be. Unless, of course, I can convince someone else to drive. Anyone else. Anyone at all. After all, I can't be worse off with them than I would be on my own, right?
[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #25/30]
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