Since the days when cavemen had to find the convenience store without crossing the tar pits, we’ve all had to either give or receive directions. It’s a skill, like kissing and telling jokes, that everyone thinks they do well.
My wife, Karin, and I can find our way around town without becoming fossilized, but when it comes to giving directions, we speak different languages.
She’s a minimalist. Her instructions are brief, to the point, and work best if you already know how to get there. Karin disagrees, of course, but I’ve seen her directions, given to friends, on how to find our home.
“Turn left by the old Jacque’s place, drive until you pass the barn that used to be red, count to ten, and then go south.”
Clear? Yes, except the Jacques have moved—the mailbox now says “Anderson.” The barn that was red comes after a barn that is red, and it’s impossible to turn south from Old 44. When I mention this, she’ll clarify, “well …. south-ish. OK?”
Her directions are easy to memorize. That’s good, because you’ll be driving a looooong time before finding us. Cal-Trans recently reported an upsurge in crop circles nearby caused by motorists endless looping off Highway 44.
My approach is to give fabulously-detailed directions. These include restaurant reviews, references to local history, scientific notes on area flora and fauna, and a rundown on road hazards and bad turns—the ones where our kids barfed. Insomniacs can read these notes and sleep for weeks. Friends see them and decide to stay home and just invite Karin over.
So our direction-giving is a competitive sport. After Karin gives her notes, I give mine. When our hapless guests finally arrive, I’ll ask: “Which set was best?” The wise ones look at Karin, at me, and say both directions, taken together—work perfectly.
These days, though, the most common answer is: “Oh… Didn’t need ‘em, used GPS.”
Alas… the art of giving directions is dying. And we’re helping to kill it. Karin and I bought a GPS. It’s added a new dimension to our trips. I punch in an address, press a button, and Lizzie-from-London takes over, we’re off to a yard sale.
“In .5 miles, turn right on Old Alturas,” says a clipped, British accent.
I’m about to make the turn, when a very familiar American voice countermands the direction.
“I wouldn’t go that way,” Karin says.
“Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend lives down there. He’ll think you’re checking up on him.”
I have to decide in a flash which of the two women I’ll obey.
I drive past the turn.
“Recalculating……” Lizzie says, sounding annoyed. “Turn right in .4 miles on Irene.”
“Nope,” Karin says.
The funny thing is, after years of marriage, this constitutes an explanation.
So, we pass turn after turn, irritating “Miss Directions,” as my wife has come to call the “other woman.” Eventually, all three of us reach our destination the way airlines do—taking a “Great Circle” route over the polar ice cap.
Karin hates my electronic playmate. Two summers ago, I was groping my way through a strange town, squinting at the GPS map, hanging on Lizzie’s instructions. But something was amiss. After every turn, Lizzie had second thoughts, “recalculated,” and told me do go back. We were going in not-so-great circles. Minutes ticked past, and our appointment loomed. All the while, Karin was sharing a story about one of her students, or the kids, or her dogs, I think. I really couldn’t tell you. I was in the Traffic Twilight Zone, where there is NO WAY TO GET THERE FROM HERE, just like driving in Vermont.
Karin took control, breaking my trance, when she reached over and turned the GPS off.
“Hey,” I said. “bring back Lizzie!”
“Really? You two have gone around the block three times,” Karin said, unfolding a moth-eaten map. “Need help?”
“Yeah. Gimmie the GPS.”
“Look. I’ve been finding our way for 20 years,” Karin said. “I’ll get you there.”
“I don’t want to be late,” I said, reaching for the GPS. Karin held it out of reach.
“OK,” I threw my hands up. “Just GET us there.” I glanced at my watch. We had 10 minutes of “wiggle room.” Karin studied her road atlas.
“Turn here, on the right,” and she waved in a southeasterly direction. I pulled on the road.
“Just a bit,” she said.
“A bit? Or a little bit?”
“Can’t tell yet. I’ll let you know.” She held the atlas at arm’s length, adjusted her glasses, and then slowly, when she thought I wasn’t looking, turned the map right-side-up.
“Might be faster to go left,” she said.
“Back there a bit,” she said, smiled, and hid her face behind the map. “Oops.”
“You recalculating?” I asked.
“No,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye. “I know exactly where I am.”
“And that would be?”
“Sitting next to the guy who’s got a BIG DECISION to make.”
She smiled. “Whether he’s sleeping tonight with me…. or Miss Directions.”
I stuffed Lizzie into the glove box, ending the affair.
We arrived in time, 10 minutes before Lizzie’s best ETA…. by Karin’s calculations….
And I’m not arguing with that.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.