Lucy and me in San Francisco

Hey everyone, I’ve been in San Francisco for a few days -out of pocket – as my editor used to say.  

I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you.


I love San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world; even more than New York (no disrespect to my mother’s hometown).

I love its little Italy in North Beach. I love its restaurants. I love its architecture. I love its smell, a mixture of sea air and garlic. I love its diversity of people. I just love almost everything about it.

Except driving in San Francisco. I hate that part. It’s me.  I just don’t know my way around enough to feel comfortable.

Especially for this trip, I brought along a brand new Tom Tom GPS (Global Positioning System) to help me find my way around the Bay Area.

Before I left my Igo driveway, I programmed my destinations into my GPS, including a trip to see my daughter near the Wine Country, followed by a drive to San Francisco to see a friend.

At first I was uncertain about whether I could really trust this little technology gizmo, stuck to my windshield. When I realized that for hundreds of miles, it hadn’t steered me wrong, I relaxed. I even felt a bond with it. 

It was so comforting to have the woman’s kindly, patient voice to guide me.

“In half a mile, turn right,” she’d say. Or, “Bear right, then take the second left.”

She was always right. I was always grateful.

At some point, I found myself answering her, person to person.

“OK, I see it,” I’d say. “Oh, thanks.”

I eventually gave her a name, Lucy, which I think she was OK with, because she didn’t complain.

Our relationship faltered the day I needed to do some grocery shopping. I asked Lucy to find the nearest Safeway. No problem, Lucy said. There’s a Safeway only 1.8 miles away. Perfecto, I said.

Off we went. For miles and miles. And miles and more miles. In circles, then far away.

Turn right, turn left, veer right, veer left, stay in the right lane, go in the left lane. Turn left, and left and left and left. And veer right.

It turned dark. We were still driving.

And just when things felt the most uncertain and most scary, Lucy clammed up, perhaps to stare at the array of lights and strip joints and XXX-rated theaters.

I yelled at Lucy. She pouted. Not a word, not a direction, not a hint of where to go next.

Finally, she piped up and led us to a Safeway that felt so far away that I was sure we were in Richmond or something.

Getting back wasn’t any easier. My neck muscles were tense and my fingers had a death grip on the steering wheel. My friend’s apartment was in sight ahead. 

But so was a Safeway I hadn’t noticed before, a Safeway so close we could have walked there.

Lucy let me down. But I’ll give her a second chance.

Maybe she doesn’t like driving in the city any more than I do.

Between the two of us, we’ll get through it. That’s what friends do.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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