Most people chuckle at the news report about the poor old soul that sets out to buy a loaf of bread at the supermarket, only to take a wrong turn and end up several hundred miles from home, in another state. Members of my family take a deep breath and wait to see if I’m revealed to be the luckless wanderer.
It’s not that I’m directionally challenged. That would suggest the outcome is at least in dispute. Fact is, if it’s possible to get lost, I will. I used to think that my wife’s tender kiss before I left the house was a token of her affection. Now I realize it’s also acknowledging the possibility she may never see me again.
I’ve actually had to call her to guide me back from within a few miles of home, because I didn’t know where I was. It happened again just last week, taking a friend to the airport—I trip I have made countless times. I took a wrong turn on my way out, and ended up on one of the internal cargo roads. I also either found a nice, quiet, wide road on which to turn around, or I meandered briefly onto the runway.
A few years back on a solo trip to visit one of my sons, I was surprised to drive by a Welcome to Georgia sign. This was somewhat unexpected, given that I had left my home in Orlando, Fla., for Tallahassee, and Florida State University, across the other side of the state.
I can’t even pretend it’s all because of aging. As a young reporter back in England, one time I was sent to cover an event in another town for my daily newspaper. Having checked into the hotel, I had a bit of time to kill and so decided to walk down to what I believed to be the picturesque harbor. I didn’t understand the baffled looks I got when I asked people for directions, until I discovered that the answer was, “Ooh, about sixty miles that way…”
Given this general cluelessness, you might hesitate if I offered to point the way to anything, but I have picked up some life lessons from my geographical deficit.
Take aim. Whoever said it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive hasn’t been in my passenger seat in the middle of nowhere. Having a destination in mind isn’t the same thing as having a direction in sight. Choose specific over vague.
Plan ahead. It’s one thing to know where you want to go, but you need to take some time working out how to get there. How many people spend more time planning the day of their wedding than all the following days of their marriage?
Ask for help. Getting lost isn’t a problem if you aren’t afraid to ask for directions. Sometimes strangers will help you on your way, but it’s even better to have someone trusted on speed dial. Swallow your pride and admit you can’t get there on your own.
Be sure you understand. Someone else can help only if you speak the same language. Siri is useless, because she doesn’t get my English accent. One time I complained to her, and she replied that she was sorry, but she was trying her best. “Straight on” means something different to me (follow the main flow of the traffic; that is, not deviating in a way that would require indicators—if Americans knew how to use them) than it does to my wife (do not turn the wheel at all).
Don’t panic. If you’re hopelessly lost, just stop a while. Don’t grit your teeth and plow on, convincing yourself that you recognize the place you just drove by for the fifth time. Sometimes trying harder just makes things worse. Press pause.
Enjoy the view. You may not have meant to come here, but now that you are why not have a look round and appreciate it? Maybe there’s a pleasant surprise awaiting.
Bring snacks. This one is courtesy of my wife, whose food preparedness for any outing would have kept the entire Donner Party safe, had she been among their number. But, seriously, plan for contingencies. Sketching out Plan B isn’t necessarily a lack of faith. It just may save your life.
As Robert Frost wrote in his first, long-lost draft, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And called for help…”