Saturday, April 14, 2012

Don't ask me where you're going


At night, it gets extraordinarily dark at the foot of the hills.

That which might be deemed basic requirements in other towns, we consider afterthoughts.

Our street lights, those that we have, now and again, work when the mood strikes and lightning doesn't. And every few blocks there’s a street sign -- a warrior wounded by a Santa Ana wind, or a driver, angry or drunk. The signs don’t point so much as suggest several possibilities -- east and west, of course, but also down below and to the sky.

If you try the sidewalks, you’ll get derailed; our sidewalks start somewhere mid-way down a street and end at someone’s garage. Then pick up again, oh, maybe three or ten houses later, which folks find whimsical or irrational, depending. When it comes to gentrification, we blow hot and cold.

Because I walk at night, cars often slow to turtle speed and ask directions.

Some people are born knowing the earth’s coordinates, I really believe that. And no matter what, no matter when, they just somehow know where they are on this earth.

That’s not me. Though I have perfect pitch.

What I don’t have, among many other things, is a sense of direction, so when people ask directions, I can’t visualize where it is they want to go or, when they ask me, where we stand.

If it’s very late, their questions often have a desperate urgency. And I feel compelled to offer something. Forgetting for the moment that accuracy isn’t beside the point, it is the only point.

So I respond, say something, throw forth a north and south. Is this a desire to help my fellow man? Or just an automatic reflex to have an answer for every question.

When they speed away, I promise myself, never again will I tell anyone where they’re not and how far they are from where I’ve never been.

40 comments:

  1. The other side of this is asking for directions. I find getting instructions to make a series of turns is pointless. Just tell me where to aim, that's all I'm asking. This is why I love GPS, no one ever gets exasperated with me.

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  2. GPS is great, if its updated... Remember the Oregon family that used Google to map their way? and they went down the wrong path?? all because Google hadn't updated their coordinates?.. I think when someone asks a 'walker' for directions it more or less reassures the asker even tho they may not know the person is 100% sure.

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  3. I've been in a country where it seems that when you ask directions no one will ever say, "I don't know." They will always give you some direction, and usually you need to talk to 10 more people, all of whom continue to give you wrong directions, before you get accurate information.

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  4. I have lived in the Village for 20 years and still have no ideas where I am. Which way to Waverly and 6th? er...yea, that way!

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  5. "Is this a desire to help my fellow man? Or just an automatic reflex to have an answer for every question."

    A little of both, maybe? We want to help, we do, and we wrack our brains for answers to offer, even if we haven't the faintest idea what their route is, or ought to be.

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  6. My favorite is when they pull up and ask questions such as "are we near El Monte? "

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  7. If people ask me for directions I just say 'Stick to the path, stay off the moors and beware the moon'. They soon piss off.

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  8. Paula, I'll ask for directions and then my mind wanders and I don't really listen.

    KBF, I think that's very true. Sometimes we just keep asking, one person after another, until we find someone who agrees with us. What Earl said.

    Kenny Mac, your my soul brother.

    PA, your spelling is one of your charms.

    Tony, that's poetry. And excellent advice.

    P, yes. Yes.

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  9. "Maps are a way of organizing wonder." (found in William Least Heat Moon's Prairy Erth).

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  10. I always know where I am. Oh, I can't tell north from south, but once I go somewhere, I can always get back there, and even find my way years later. True story: When my grandfather died, I flew into LAX with 2 of my kids, hired a limo, and told him to go find the house my grandfather had lived in from 1960 to 1978. I had last been there in 1970 and 1975 (too young to drive in both years), and it was 1998. He got me to Lakewood, and I found the house. I make my kids crazy when I tell them how to find things by landmark: Get off the expressway at Oak street, go thru the 4-way intersection to the next stop sign and make a right, then go till you reach the Williams Tire place and make a left. They just can't follow that. GPS ruins whatever sense of direction people might have.

    And I'm with Petrea when she says offering directions is both the desire to help and to have an answer for every question. No one wants to feel "useless", after all.

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  11. Oh most certainly we must go to Paris together and have one hellova time and get lost as two dogs! :)
    V

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  12. I definitely think it's a natural instinct to want to help; if nothing else you're easing their anxiety (even if you don't get them much further to their destination). I think I'd rather have perfect pitch than a sense of direction, so I'm envious. I can usually figure out where I'm going, although like Marjie I often just know landmarks and not street names. I've never used a GPS, but I have used an upside-down California map to drive South from SF. It shows the ocean on the right and the names of the towns right-side up, like I gather a GPS can do. I like having a whole big map like that though.

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  13. Men: This is why you should NEVER stop and ask for directions, no matter how much the wife/girlfriend/partner pleads for you to do so. The person you ask never, ever knows... or sends you in the wrong direction
    QED

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  14. I am not good to orientation...
    Don't ask me where you're going too!

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  15. You don't ask me, I won't ask you. Deal?

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  16. I've got a good sense of direction (though living in Australia confused it for the first week or two) but my brain gets fuddled when I'm asked for directions and all too often I tell them with certainty the route they should take, only to remember as they speed off that I pointed them in completely the wrong direction. It would be much better if I just said I didn't know - when will I learn?

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  17. Marjie, those are the kind of directions I could follow. And I don't like GPS because that bitch's voice really bothers me.

    Virg, yes, let's get lost.

    Katie, like Banjo said, there's a beauty to maps. Pre-GPS, I once visited RM to see how they do updates. Did you know every map has a street that doesn't exist as a way to protect their copyright?

    Soilman, don't even pretend that behavior involves a particle of logic.

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  18. A poetic paragraph in conclusion.
    (You have perfect pitch, really?)

    Sometimes, I feel intense pressure to give good directions. Why is that, I wonder . . . could it be I've appropriated a sense of "Minnesota Nice"?

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  20. TheChief won't get GPS..prefers to read a map...I use GPS on my cell phone...as for giving directions...if I know where I am and where they're going...I might give them directions that work...but not necessarily!!!

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  21. Bellis, Sonia, and CP, time to resurrect don't ask don't tell.

    Bandit, you can run but you can't hide.

    Chieftess, I think if someone starts the directions with, "Ok, let me see..." keep going.

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  22. I don't need GPS. If I don't know where I'm going, I look at a map.

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  23. In India they always give directions....lots of them....whether they know or not....sometimes going off the path can lead to all sorts of adventures, who knows how you might hiave redirected lives!!!

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  24. As you have perfect pitch, maybe you could sing the directions you're making up to the tune of something suitable, like 'Amazing Grace'. If they are exasperated later when they find themselves driving in circles, your crooning about being lost then found might help soften their chagrin.

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  25. Just stopping by to wishing you a good week ahead!

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  26. And I'll bet you can fold it too, DB.

    Oh, that's funny YAH. Sounds like quite a few of us around here are at least part Indian.

    Shell, I once was lost/but now I'm found?

    Thank you Sonia. How very nice.

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  27. Streets named with numbers do have advantages for us directionally challenged folks. BTW Austin has things like "38 1/2 Street"; very wacky.

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  28. Jean, how are you?!

    You made me think of our former govenor's comment about St. Paul;

    "All these streets were laid out by drunken Irishmen." Jesse Ventura

    No numbered streets to speak of . . .

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  29. Jean, how are you?!

    You made me think of our former govenor's comment about St. Paul;

    "All these streets were laid out by drunken Irishmen." Jesse Ventura

    No numbered streets to speak of . . .

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  30. According to the Irish, it was the drunken Swedes.

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  31. I am so with you. I have a horrible sense of direction, but I do ok in South Pasadena because normally people only ask for Fair Oaks, Huntington, the 110 or the 710. I can do that.

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  32. There's an old Wendy Hiller film
    "I know where I'm going."
    Wish that was true for the rest of us.

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  33. I think my whole family is functionally illiterate when it comes to map reading and/or having a semi-cogent sense of direction. Whenever I hear north, south, east or west this or that, my brain goes into auto shutdown mode and all I hear is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...

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  34. I walk in light. Less questions! hahahaha

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  35. When people ask me, I point in the general direction and say, "That way." but only when I know where the mountains are.

    When I'm lost, I shut down, too, after they tell me the second turn to make. If I got out more, I'd get GPS.

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  36. Considering recent Altadena incidents, I couldn't help but think of my grandmother's words as I read this: "Be careful out there. People are crazy."

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  37. I'm one of those with a built in compass. But when it comes to detailed street instructions either from me, or to me, I suck! It doesn't matter if the street signs point in the right direction or not!

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