My sister and I are directionally challenged. She once commented that if people understood just how bad we are at figuring out how to get anywhere, they would give us special handicapped stickers. We’d have something on the back of our bumper, like a globe with a big question mark on top of it, telling people that we literally have no idea where we are most of the time, or how to get where we are supposed to go, without relying on some sort of map or GPS. Then people would understand why we’re constantly slowing down and wouldn’t get all testy when we have to make an illegal u-turn in the middle of the road.
What I find fascinating is that despite my willingness to admit that I am directionally challenged, people (read “men”) don’t grasp how bad my problem really is. I’ll agree to meet someone somewhere, and ask for the address. The person (i.e., guy), rather than give me the address, starts to tell me how to get there. I usually interrupt and say something like, “Please don’t bother telling me how to get there, I don’t have any sense of direction. Just give me the address.” There will be a slight pause, and he will read off the address to me. Then he’ll start explaining again, “All you need to do is hop on 522 South for about 15 minutes and then take the blah blah blah exit…”
What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that he lost me at “South”. If I KNEW how to figure out where north, south, east and west live, then I’d probably be a lot better at getting to my destination. But I don’t. Its like I was born without an internal compass. I have actually (more than once) gotten lost in a parking garage. I was once visiting a client at his office in Long Island, NY. First of all, I don’t know why the hell they call it Long Island, NY because its actually a lot of different towns, all located on a stupid island. So when you get lost, and you have to stop at a gas station to ask for directions, and you give the guy the street address, he’s going to ask you “what town?”. When you answer “Long Island”, he’s going to look at you like you’re a moron.
Anyway, after meeting with my client, I left his office to drive to the airport. I can’t remember if it was JFK or LaGuardia. But I do know that I ended up calling him about an hour later.
“Larry, are you busy?”
“No, what’s up? Are you at the airport?”
“Where are you?”
“Well, apparently I’m in the middle of Times Square.”
“Are you joking?”
“Larry, I really wish I was. But I’m not. And now I need you to tell me how to get out of this mess.”
I finally did make it back to the airport without missing my flight, but it was a close call.
To make matters worse, even though I know I don’t have a sense of direction, I am often totally convinced I know exactly where I’m going. There is a huge Mormon temple in Maryland that you can see when you are driving on the capital beltway. It looms several hundred feet into the sky, over the tree tops, with a beautiful gold statue at the very top. Once driving home from an appointment, I was so positive that I was headed in the right direction that when I saw the Temple looming up on the wrong side of the highway, I thought to myself, “Oh look they built another temple to match the one on the left!” It took me another two minutes of driving to figure out that I was headed in the wrong direction.
Friends will tell you that I am particularly annoying to drive with, especially if I am certain that I know the best way to get to our destination. Despite knowing my handicap, I can often be so insistent that we’re headed in the right direction, and so righteous in my indignation that they are not listening to me, that they will sometimes succumb to my bossiness and let me lead the way. When we inevitably find ourselves driving around in circles, wondering where the hell we are, I will say something like, “there is a slight possibility that we turned left when we should have turned right.”
I say this in a very small voice, a sort of whispery thing, hoping that somehow they will think it is all their fault. If I get yelled at, I explain as gently as possible that it really isn’t my fault. They should have known better than to listen to me in the first place. I’ll remind them about all the other times they made a similar mistake with me. Then I’ll go so far as to admit it is probably one of my character flaws. This usually disarms them and they stop yelling at me.
I also find myself lying a lot when it comes to directions. I’ll ask someone I’ve just met where he lives. I’m just making polite conversation, and honestly just want to know the general city or state. I’ll get a response like, “Do you know where Handley High School is?” This is when I begin to see “danger danger danger” signs flashing in my head. I know that if I admit I have no idea where the school is located, the conversation is simply going to start going down the now-familiar path of, “well, do you know where the Methodist Church is? No? What about the 7-11? No? What about the little restaurant on the intersection of so-and-so?”
In order to save both of us a painful experience, I just lie and enthusiastically respond, “Oh, yes, I know exactly where that is.” Because then I know I’m going to hear something like, “Well, I live on Brown street just south of the high school.” Now I’ve saved us both a lot of wasted time. He thinks I know where he lives, and I don’t have a clue but don’t really care because I’ll just ask for the address again if I ever decide to visit. Provided of course, I can get it out of him.