Thursday, September 17, 2009

I want to go to there...

It happened again today and it’s really just the sheer ridiculous number of times it’s happened that made me sit up and take notice and then of course to sit down again and write about it. Because of course – as should by now be crystal clear – once I’ve got one thought on the go, it’s never very long before another comes sidling along to keep it company and the tangentializing begins like that shampoo commercial where the girl told two friends… who told two friends… and so on and so on and so on.
So what happened again today (for the umpteenth time – an amount that’s situationally-dependent, but for the sake of argument lets say at least 20 times in the past month) was that someone came up and asked me for directions.
Nothing out of the ordinary, right? But then, mere moments later another strange somebody came up and asked me for a whole bunch more directions, which was obviously just apres him le deluge because before another ten minutes had passed a third person came up to me and asked for his very own set.
And it’s not like I was the lone potential directions-giver. This all occurred on a very congested bit of pavement at University and King on a Wednesday evening at about 6 PM. Total rush hour. The streets were clogged with traffic and the sidewalks were practically shoulder to shoulder with busy business men (and women) on the go. And each time the same thing happened: the direction-asker would sweep her (or his) eyes across the wall of humanity before bearing down on me with all the deliberate awkwardness of a drunk at a cocktail party.
And each time I had to smile and shake my head and tell them no – sorry, I have no idea where your there is.
But they keep asking.
Now by no means am I suggesting that being asked for directions makes me eligible for special notice – or in fact that in this instance or for any other reason I’m the least bit special at all – but it came hard on the heels of the day before where I was accosted at question point twice in one hour. See what I’m saying? It was the multiples that caused the notice, but even without the coincidence factor, I have always been vaguely aware that if someone is lost and I am in the vicinity, it is likely to me they will be turning. Bless them – bless them and their completely misbegotten faith in my directions-friendly face.
I don’t know why, but what I think it must mean is I’ve got the kind of face that looks as though it knows where it’s going and would be happy to let others know where they’re going too.
Sadly, those two truths remain eternally unconnected because though I would be perfectly content to share any bit of helpful information with anyone that asked, I almost never know where I’m going if it’s the slightest bit off my regular grid and unless people are asking me for directions to my actual home, I probably don’t know how to get them where they’re going either.
This is a lifelong issue. I am famed for my inability to find or follow directions. To apply a map with actual streets. To instinctively know east from west (west is the direction my friend lives in – east is on the way to that PetSmart off Laird) though I’ve got north and south nailed as up and down. Thank God. But even those simple compass points require constant, vigilant practice to make me feel comfortable relying on them as I can easily be bamboozled into turning the whole thing upside down or inside out and be completely lost in the rolling of an eye.
Just last week I was off to meet a friend for dinner (n.b. I am genius – read ‘adequate’ – with subways and streetcars) and after using up every drop of TTC available to me, hit the pavement and began the ordeal of finding her by going to completely the wrong location on the first try. Not just the wrong direction – totally and utterly not the place. I was canny enough to ask the host of the wrong restaurant where the right one was and he gave me very simple directions: return in the direction from which I came, walk until I hit Adelaide, then turn left and keep going until I either walked straight into or right past the place I intended to go.
What could be simpler? I knew the direction I had come from and I knew for sure without even thinking twice (one glance at the hand that holds the pencil was enough) which way was left. So why did I decide to turn left several blocks earlier than advised with an idea that I would then turn right and then left and (oh, jeez, who knows?) end up at the destination from my own trajectory. Why? Why did I think I knew better than the man who knew absolutely where I was going and the best way to get there? Why was I so sure I was clever enough to achieve this? Why – with years and years and years of personal experience and hard-won knowledge that I suck at going places - did I suddenly decide to become Direction Girl?
The answer remains unfathomable. I mean, even in these relatively few paragraphs (relatively few for me…) you must have grasped that when it comes to going places, there is where I am not. That striking off on my own is likely as foolhardy as my secret conviction I could do surgery if I tried.
But weirdly, I do this all the time. It’s as though I’m continually testing myself to see if I can suddenly start finding my way – as though I might wake up one morning miraculously equipped with some kind of mental GPS – without any effort on my part. As though finding places and reading maps is a state of mind that can change, perhaps when that particular state of mind has simply had enough of getting lost, or the loser gets bonked on the head or experiences an electric shock or has a piano dropped on them.
But each morning I awake, as determinedly geographically-challenged as the day before.
It’s ok. Eventually I get where I’m going.
I got to my dinner date not much more than half an hour late and my date was brilliantly forgiving and understanding. All the recriminations were going on inside my head between me and me – and that’s not an argument that’s going to end anytime soon.
But from now on I am committed to taking a cab when meetings are critical and destinations are unfamiliar. I will give myself extra time on the more casual occasions when I feel myself starting to feel quietly adventurous. I will listen more carefully, make more notes and repeat instructions as often as necessary to simply get the address correct. I will accept this handicap as is, admit I have a problem and not hope for a piano to fall on my head.
And as for where you’re going? Unless that’s a philosophical question, it’s probably best not to ask.
Remember, it’s not the destination – it’s the journey.