Help For The Directionally Challenged

Help For The Directionally Challenged

After receiving the Covid vaccine, and waiting two weeks for full effectiveness, I am ready to start venturing out of the house more this spring and summer. Road trips have been on my “to do list” since retiring, so I am hopeful we will get a few planned. While I love to plan trips, and go on them, I rarely do the driving. There are two reasons: I like to take naps in the car, but primarily because I am directionally challenged. As in, no sense of direction. It’s not that I occasionally take a wrong turn, or need help finding a new place. It is more like this- I still get lost while driving in my hometown, where I have lived almost my entire life, except for the three years I lived in the state capitol, and I got lost there too. So it is really non-existent. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Maps helps the directionally challenged

This of course has lead to some entertaining stories. I will start with an ill fated trip to a friend’s lake house during my law school years. I was back home for the summer, and working part time. The photo is a good illustration of how we got around in those days. On this particular evening, I left my parents’ house on the far north side of Omaha, and headed south ending up on a two lane highway. It should have taken about 45-50 minutes. It was around 9:30 p.m. when I left, which is close to my current bedtime. But in those days, it was normal to start the evening that late.

In my trusty old Chevelle, with a broken speedometer, I cruised along listening to the radio, the only option for entertainment. I had to leave it on one station to be sure I could hear it throughout the trip. The Little River Band had a hit song that received a lot of airplay at the time called Lonesome Loser. It was about a guy who is unlucky in love, and by himself because of it. If you remember the song, you are probably humming the refrain right now- “Have you heard about the lonesome loser, beaten by the queen of hearts everytime?” A very catchy tune. I heard it about ten times.

I must have been singing along a lot too, because I was driving longer than I thought it would take to make the turn to the lake. This became apparent when I read the sign that said “Entering Otoe County” and arrived at its largest town, Nebraska City. I had missed the turn by about 20 miles. What is a lost person to do? I pulled into the closest convenience store, and went inside to ask for directions. Unfortunately, he started talking about north, south, east and west, instead of the universal language of the perpetually lost- something like turn right just past the billboard for the local bank. Landmarks for pete’s sake Mr. Convenience Store. I thanked him, and decided to get back on the road I came in on, follow the signs toward Omaha, and look for any turns toward the lake I might have missed.

I also decided I needed something to prove to my friends that I had indeed gotten really lost. This was also to explain why I would arrive so late. There was a phone booth nearby, so I went inside and decided to take an unimportant page from the front of the local phone book. As luck would have it, one of Nebraska City’s police officers saw me do this, and came over to chat. He was especially giddy when he saw my license plate, because in those days the first number was based on the size of the county where you lived. Omaha was numero uno, and the smaller towns didn’t really like the bigger ones. So I was from the big, bad, city. Probably out on parole or a fugitive from justice.

I decided to explain my predicament and just keep talking until he told me to stop. No tears, but I could have mustered some up if needed. After checking to see if I had any outstanding warrants, which I think disappointed him when I didn’t, he decided to let me go without a citation. But he did follow me out of town to make sure I was on my way out of Otoe County. After many more miles, and in spite of my best efforts, I never made it to the cabin. With the detour to Nebraska City and the police chat, I didn’t make it home until the wee hours of the morning. One of my more memorable misadventures in the car. And anytime I hear Lonesome Loser, it reminds of the journey.

I have had a lot of other driving mishaps over the years. When my daughter played soccer, we frequently went to out of town tournaments. One of them annually occurred in Sioux City, Iowa. That is an especially strange place to get to because there are three Sioux Cities right next to each other- one in Iowa, one in Nebraska, and one in South Dakota. Good grief. Couldn’t they come up with some other names?

My most recent misadventure occurred a few summers ago, when I decided to drive by myself to Indiana and meet my sister at a lake resort. Armed with directions on my phone, Mapquest printed directions as a back up, and a lot of caffeine, I set out on the one day drive. Getting through Chicago traffic was harrowing, but I was close at that point. The problem cropped up when I got within a mile of the resort. GPS took me to a cemetery. It was still daylight, but there wasn’t anybody around.

I called the resort. In a weird twist of fate, I managed to connect with the most confused front desk clerk in Indiana. She had no idea where I was, and neither did I. In fact, I am not sure she knew where she was either, because all she kept asking me was if I was close to the lake. Nope, just me and the dearly departed. Eventually I wandered onto a main road, and finally connected with my sister.

So much for GPS. It helps if you have the following conditions-one, there isn’t any construction at any point in your trip. And two, your phone has to be able to read the directions to you. You know- in two miles, you will take Exit 422, on the left. My Android phone tends to malfunction in this regard a lot. The GPS built into my most recent car purchase is ok, but you have to update a sm card to keep it current, and it doesn’t talk. Note to Mazda- make sure your GPS system speaks on future models- sincerely, every 60 something person who buys your cars.

You would think there would be a Catholic saint for this. We have one for lost things, ( St. Anthony), and lost causes, (St. Jude). And apparently one for lost heads- the above photo is entitled “Medieval Portrayal of Saints.” The one on the bottom row, second from the right, is St. Denis, the Patron Saint of Paris, whose severed head could allegedly preach while he carried it around. Many of the saints met with grizzly deaths, so I guess a decapitated one isn’t a huge surprise. But I hereby request a Patron Saint of the Perpetually Lost. Surely someone at the Vatican is reading my blog and will take this into consideration!

For those of you who share my affliction, I feel your pain. For those who live with us, here are a few tips to help your directionally challenged loved one:

1. Remember we only know one way to get to most destinations.

2. You need to give us directions using landmarks and interesting sites, and if they have changed keep using the old one, i.e. turn left where the Burger King used to be that’s now a donut shop.

3. Remember that changes to things like interstate exits and on ramps really don’t register with us.

Keep all of this in mind if we are behind the wheel, or better yet, just drive and let us nap. Doing so is one of the secrets to a long and happy marriage!

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