I have a terrible sense of direction. I get lost very easily, which fills me with absurd amounts of stress.
The stress mostly arises from the fact that when I get lost, I end up in a terrifying neighborhood. By terrifying, I mean the neighborhoods that locals say, “I’m surprised you weren’t [insert consequences of my arrival to that neighborhood: carjacked, stabbed, shot, etc.].”
So when I travel for the many, many auditions that I do, getting there fills me with a sense of terror that no amount of auditon anxiety could match—I still arrive to the audition nervous and sweating, but it’s usually because I’ve run, or driven 80 mph with my hands clenched around the steering wheel, knuckles white, and either been looking behind me in fear of potential attackers, or in the rear view mirror, just hoping that that car tailgating me isn’t full of criminals or rapists eager to tear me to itty bitty bits.
I dare you to sing two arias with that kind of fight-or-flight adrenaline coursing through your veins.
Sure, I’ve looked up my directions on Google or Yahoo or Mapquest well in advance, and followed them to a T, but sometimes, even those aren’t helpful.
Sometimes, when my husband is driving, and he’s unsure of which way to go, he asks which direction my instinct tells me we should turn. “Left,” I’ll say, and he says, “then we’ll go right,” which is most often the correct choice.
Also, counter to what is stereotypical for my sex, I NEVER ask for directions. This is less about not wanting to ask, and more about my not being able to follow what someone has told me. Or that the people I ask have no idea. Or don’t speak English.
You may be wondering, why does she get lost so often? Why not have a GPS?
Well, I’ll tell you why. PRIDE.
What could I possibly have to be proud of with this sense of direction? Bursting into terrified or frustrated tears every time I go somewhere I’ve never been? And on some occasions, places I’ve been several times and somehow can’t manage to get back to?
The only way I can really explain any sense of pride is that the very, very, very, very few times I’ve managed to get somewhere, in one piece, without calling my husband or my brother-in-law or one of my sisters saying OH GOD YOU’VE GOT TO HELP ME ARE YOU NEAR A COMPUTER? or the office or person at whichever destination I’m trying to reach and trying not to sound too desperate as I say you’re-not-next-to-a-gas-station-off-a-dirt-road-are-you-can-you-steer-me-in-the-right-direction? I have been proud of my ability to figure out the puzzle that maps, roads, streets, and alleys can be.
And I like to solve these kinds of puzzles. It’s just easier when it’s on a cereal box with a pencil and not in my vehicle through a section of town that looks a bit like some places I’ve done mission work in third world countries.
When I was a kid, my dad used to hand us the Rand McNally road atlas, and say “you’re the navigator!” and make us figure out where we were going. The first time I was in charge of the direction of my dad’s Jeep, I was seven, and we were on a trip to visit my dad’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Joyce—a six and a half hour drive, filled with Yoohoo and classic rock, and following our route on that atlas with my finger, and assuring my dad that with only an inch left to go on the map, we should be there in 30 seconds.
I still love the Rand McNally atlas, and the copy in my car is dog-eared and brittle, even though it’s only three years old. Because I’m good at reading maps, I’ve heartily resisted the shift to the Global Positioning System, even though I learned how to use them before they were widely available as a driving direction tool—in gifted, we learned how to use it as a means of plotting the location of wetlands. Since I lived in the suburbs, this was a less useful skill.
My problem with direction is not one of reading maps; it is that there are few, if any, good city maps, and these don’t give you specific directions to a specific location with much use.
I remember the first time I ventured out on my own to explore in Europe. I was in Milan, and I was determined to see several things no one in my group was interested in. I set off, with my limited Italian, and a city map. Six hours and two museums and the Prada store later, I could not find my way back to my hostel. I wandered for about forty-five minutes, eating a gelato and trying not to feel too concerned. An hour after that, I sat weeping in a doorway. A policeman asked if I was alright—through my tears I asked in halting Italian if he knew where this place was. He answered by pointing down the street and told me to take a left. I was less than 50 yards from the hostel.
You’d think that experience would be the only one of its kind, but alas…
The first time I used a GPS I was in a rental car. So getting lost didn’t matter, since it wasn’t my personal property that would be seized by a drug cartel in a carjacking—not that that was likely to happen in Nashville, Tennessee. However, having a voice tell me where to go, and when to turn, and a visible map at all times made it much easier.
How had I lived without such a device?
It was not until two years later that I got one—hey, I was still under the false illusion that I could “learn my way around.” It took a trip to Atlanta where I ended up at a gas station on a dirt road instead of an Episcopal church in an affluent suburb that I decided GoogleMaps was no longer for me.
I told my husband that I wanted either a GPS or a watch that did not have a Disney character on it for Christmas last year. I told him to get whichever he thought I needed more. Clearly, the GPS won by a landslide.
So I’ve been using it. And it’s great!
There are times when the GPS doesn’t recognize the address I’ve fed it, or it doesn’t acknowledge that the location I want to go to is RIGHT THERE and not actually 45 minutes down a country road, or it won’t find a signal and recognize that I’m not 3 states away where I used it last, or it takes me off the highway an unnecessary 6 exits early, forcing me to drive around, yet again, a bad neighborhood I could have bypassed going 70 mph.
There’s also that snide voice that tells me it’s “recalculating” in a tone that indicates that I’m the most enormous idiot to ever live and WHY can I not follow its SIMPLE instructions to drive through a closed road across a flooded bridge to get where I’m going.
I probably should update it more often.
But THEN I found that I could download John Cleese’s voice, and it’s much more pleasant to have the British comic tell me to “Turn around when possible, so that you’ll be facing in the opposite direction from the direction in which you are directing your vehicle.”
So there are still times when I need to call someone, and I’m horribly lost, but at least I’m not panicking. Because I’m enjoying the delightful wry British wit of my GPS device, and when I get there, I get there.
And as John will tell me, “you have reached your destination. You may get out now, but I am not going to help you carry your bags.”