In most things I am fairly competent, and maybe even above average. I can sing opera. I can cook a gourmet meal. I can cram more dishes into the dishwasher than the manual says it can handle and they still come out clean. I can train a dog to flip a biscuit off his nose and catch it. I’ve never been in an auto accident (unless you count the teenager with no driver’s license who sideswiped me and left a paint streak on the side of my car.) I can code a great website from scratch. “I can bring home the bacon (Da, daaah da-DAH), fry it up in the pan (Da, daaah da-DAH), and never, ever let you forget you’re a man…”
But there is one thing that is my Achilles’ heel, my kryptonite, my fatal flaw: I get lost while driving.
Before the invention of GPS navigation systems I would carefully plan my route on MapQuest, ensuring that I included relevant landmarks and had back-up routes in case of traffic or construction.
Before that I had several different atlases and street maps with me at all times, many of which were stained with highlighter showing my previously explored routes. Others of which were laminated and noted with grease-pencil and post-it notes.
My complete lack of any sense of direction and flustered anxiety while attempting to reach a previously uncharted destination has led to some startling discoveries. For example, did you know that there are “Ravenna Boulevard” and “Ravenna Court” and “Ravenna Drive” and “Ravenna Street” and “Ravenna Avenue” and “Ravenna Place” and “Ravenna Park” all within about an eight block radius in Seattle? (This may be a slight exaggeration, but in my panic they multiplied.) For a more daring “fly by the seat of my pants” sort this might have been an adventure, or a cause to guffaw, but for me it induces blinding terror.
I have gotten lost going to places to which I’ve been dozens of times, since this time I was coming from a different starting point. I am a pro at knowing when it is safe to U-turn and backtrack onto the right route after a missed turn, or failed lane change, or sudden unexpected dead end. I’m the one in the car who says, “Well, the sun sets in the west, so we must be going north now, right?” I am that person you’ve seen on the side of the highway, wiping the tears from the road map as it is folded and re-folded to expose the most relevant section to get back on track.
There was one occasion when my daughter was about two years-old when I had to make a U-turn just to get to the entrance of a parking lot. As soon as she noted the 180-degree turn the car was making, she remarked in a weary voice, “Oh, no. We’re lost again. Where’s the map?”
But now there is GPS. Hallelujah! A friendly customizable voice cheerfully guides me to my destination. Obstacles are quickly overcome with one patient word: “Rerouting.” The phrase “I can’t get there from here,” is replaced with, “I’ll punch it in the GPS,” in my lexicon. The GPS is like the most supportive Lamaze coach, serenely prompting you to your next action and reminding you to stay calm and breathe.
God bless the GPS!