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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Make a U-Turn, Then Ask Someone Who Knows

(Two bits of B&C goodness since last time:

Wednesday Walk Watch: Week sWix: “When you’re toiling past the middle of May taking fewer walks on the season than Joel Piniero, Derek Lowe or Chan Ho Park, you’re really putting something special together.”

Kris Medlen, Renaissance Man: “Luckily for Medlen, the game’s not in Colorado — humidor or not, who wants to start a pitching career there?”

Now back to your regularly-scheduled dose of drivel.)

I’ve been told that I give lousy directions. This is surprising to me, for two reasons:

A. I’m a reasonably eloquent guy.

I’m sure Hemingway or Oscar Wilde could get you to the Home Depot down the street more compellingly, but I like to think I have enough word smarts to get across the directions I’m trying to convey.

(Though not quite enough to come up with a better term for ‘word smarts’, apparently. Baby steps, people.)

“And while I occasionally still get tripped up on the whole righty-lefty thing, I’m happy to use those little pointy things on the ends of my hands to make myself clear.”

So far as I know, I don’t have any kind of thick, impenetrable accent. And I use all the local Bostonified versions of various direction-giving terms — like ‘rahndabaht‘ for ‘traffic circle’, ‘stahp light‘ for ‘traffic signal’ and ‘ehfing retahds‘ for ‘other drivers’. And while I occasionally still get tripped up on the whole righty-lefty thing, I’m happy to use those little pointy things on the ends of my hands to make myself clear.

(Fingers! Those are called fingers! I say, I’m getting word smarterer every day. Huzzah.)

2. I rarely know how the hell to get anywhere.

So the vast majority of the times when I’m asked to give directions, I just shrug my shoulders and walk on by. It’s only when I really, truly, deep in my heart of hearts believe that I know the way that I’ll attempt to share. And given my backwards sense of direction and memory like a rusty sieve, whatever you’re looking for pretty much has to be within eyesight for me to be of any use. That, and I can tell you the way to get to my house.

Usually. If we’re close by. And you don’t mind going the wrong way down a few one-way streets. Or cutting through a playground. There’s just too damned many turns otherwise.

Still, people routinely tell me that my directions are nearly useless. I mention all of the right streets, and if you already knew where you were going, you might be able to interpret my gibberish as directions after the fact. But if you’re relying on me to get you somewhere, then you might as well just stay home, apparently. Or buy a GPS, for crissakes. Like it’s my job to get you people where you’re going, anyway.

For most practical purposes, I’ve been taken completely out of the direction-giving loop. My wife tells people how to get to our house.

(And avoiding the playground crossing, even, which is a huge plus. According to the local cops and concerned parents groups, anyway.)

In other situations, I defer to whoever’s around that looks remotely competent. Out with friends — let one of them navigate for a stranger. Sitting in the office — some co-worker can get you to that new restaurant, probably. I’ve got important non-direction-giving work to do over here; surely you can see that. Out on my own, with any doubt in my mind — I dunno, man, go ask that squirrel over there. Maybe he knows where the high school is. You don’t want my advice, trust me.

Every once in a while, though, a perfect storm of navigation querying comes along. Like this morning, on my way to work. As I was strolling the few blocks between my car and the office, a truck turned the corner ahead of me and pulled up alongside me. The driver leaned out and asked:

Hey, buddy, do you know where XYZ hospital is?

As it turns out, I know very well where XYZ hospital is, seeing as how it’s right next to the hospital I work at. The local city planners have seen fit in their wisdom to cram all of the local hospitals into a three-block area where I work — the better to treat you for any ailment, once you’re within range, I suspect.

Of course, the large areas of town relatively far away from this little postage stamp-sized mecca of critical care are pretty much screwed. But those people knew the score when they decided to live on the outskirts, right?

(‘Oh, if only you’d have gotten here sooner, Mr. Johnson, we might have saved your legs. But you had to go and buy a condo out in the boonies, and now I’m afraid we have to Cap’n Dan you. I would really have a stern talk with my real estate agent, if I were you, sir.‘)

City planning snafus notwithstanding, this was one rare occasion where I actually knew the directions I was asked for, it involved very little navigatory work, and the destination was quite close by. There’s no possible way to give poor directions, from where I was standing. So I jumped right in:

Sure thing! Just turn around, take this right, cross the riverway, and you’ll see signs for the hospital in a couple of blocks.

He seemed satisfied with that. Given my dismal record with such things, maybe I should have asked whether he had any questions, or if anything was unclear. Maybe he’d like a diagram, or I could pull the squirrel in to explain it in a slightly different way. But the guy nodded, looked fully on board with the plan, and took off again, presumably to pull a U-turn as I said, to start the directions.

As for me, I continued walking — on the very same route I’d just given him. The two hospitals really are side-by-side, and once you make the right, it’s a straight four-block shot to the bullseye. The traffic was light today, so as I walked, I kept an eye on the road to make sure the guy made his way in the right direction. I didn’t see him pass during the first block — but then again, it’s a little tough to turn around on the street he was on, and that light at the turn is pretty long sometimes.

He didn’t pass during the second block, either. But there is another light back there. And maybe he got a cell phone call and pulled over to talk or something.

Third block? No sign of him.

Fourth block. Nothing.

I finally crossed the last street before my building — the last intersection he should have gone through before turning to reach XYZ — and entered the building. Four blocks. Maybe six minutes elapsed. And a three-item set of dead-simple, no-muss, you-could-explain-it-to-a-first-grader directions that should have taken thirty seconds to put into motion. And which one of us had gotten entirely assed up.

I’d like to think — not knowing the guy and thus able to postulate that he could, in fact, be a lobotomized ADD-addled orangutan in some kind of disguise — that it was all his fault. But he was in an old pickup truck, and I’ve never known a monkey to drive a stick before. Especially the ADD ones. And especially after their frontal lobes have been put through the blender.

Alternatively, I could believe that the guy was kidnapped or truck-jacked just behind me, and never made the U-turn to follow the directions. But I’d just been walking that street, and there was nobody back there. Besides, who the hell jacks a beat-up old truck, anyway? Is there a black market for Hank Williams 8-track tapes I don’t know about? Unlikely.

So I’m left to believe — or have confirmed, once again — that I just give crappy, unfollowable directions. I still don’t see the problem. I mean, I could follow my directions. I just followed my own — on foot, no less. But something crucial evidently gets lost in the translation from my brain to someone else’s, and hitting that squirrel up for a map starts to look awfully good to people.

Frankly, it’s just damned frustrating. Such a simple thing to do, and I’m apparently unable, even in the simplest case, to get anyone successfully from Point A to Point B. And now some doofus stranger was reminding me of that, and ruining my whole day in the process. I actually wanted to go back toward my car, comb the neighborhood for that guy in the truck, and tell the bastard he could go to hell.

Of course, I’d never be able to tell him how to get there, so what’s the point, really? Stupid guy looking for the hospital, anyway. Probably bought a house on the outskirts. Meh.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Make a U-Turn, Then Ask Someone Who Knows”

  1. So you’re the bastard. I’ll have you know you said NOTHING about a U-turn and therefore I ended up in BAYONNE F***ING NEW JERSEY! That’s right, BAYONNE! So now not only did I not find a hospital, I’ve been given three more reasons to seek one!

    Thanks loads, douchebag!

    Seriously, though, good post.

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