This past week, Karen had one of those unexpected adventures that can happen along the way, and that prompted a question:
I’m pretty good at reading maps, because I need to be. My eyesight is bad enough (even when wearing my contacts) that I have trouble making out small street signs and address numbers. When I’m going someplace new, I’ll study the map carefully first, so I know just how many more blocks I need to go after the last major intersection and can count them off as I’m driving. I try to remember to put the map in the car ahead of time, so I don’t leave without it and can refer to it on the way. I usually print my maps from Google Maps so I can include the turn-by-turn directions, which are very helpful; I just wish they’d include on which side of the street the address I’m looking for is located.
Even with preparation, though, I still get lost sometimes. Most of the time that happens toward the end of the trip, when I overshoot or can’t find the address I’m looking for. Occasionally, I’ll encounter a detour that sends me off my route into an unfamiliar area. And if I have to find my way to a new place at night, I’ll probably try to get someone else to drive.
I’ve found that I’m most likely to get lost when I’ve gone somewhere just once or twice – enough that I don’t think I need a map, but not enough to know the route well. Last week, I got myself lost twice while on the way to the “pet lodge” where we board Gypsy. It’s out in the country – yes, we do have “country” around Los Angeles, and my home turf of Ventura County has a lot of agricultural land – and I was taking a route that I’ve used before, but always going in the opposite direction. I made a couple of wrong turns, but realized it soon enough to turn around, go back, and correct myself. But there was an unexpected benefit to that little adventure – I discovered a new alternate route for part of the drive!
My reaction to getting lost depends a lot on time – if it’s daylight, and I’m not in a rush, I don’t really mind it too much. Luckily, most of the time I realize I’ve gotten off track pretty soon after it happens, so I look for a place to turn around, and backtrack to where I think I made my mistake (it’s more of a problem if I’m not sure exactly where that happened, of course). As I already mentioned, I prefer not to find my way to new places in the dark, so if I get lost at night – or at any time of day when I’m rushing or running late – I’m much less likely to be nonchalant about it.
The suburb where I live isn’t very large; it’s not hard to learn the main north-south and east-west streets, and you’re usually not far from one of them. However, there are a lot of newer subdivisions along the edges of town, with winding roads and limited access, and those can get quite confusing. (I live in one, so trust me on that.) I work in Los Angeles, though, and that can be a whole big, sprawling other story; some people only know how to navigate the place by freeway. Over seven and a half years, I’ve learned the main roads through the San Fernando Valley well enough to get between work and home entirely on surface streets; it would take me a couple of hours one way, so I don’t want to have to do it, but it’s good to know that if it came to that, I could.
I think it’s vital to know how to read a map, and I have a good enough sense of direction to find my own way most of the time – but I’m not so good at giving directions. Fortunately, if your car has a GPS navigation system or your cell phone has a map/navigation app, you can probably figure out how to get where you need to be without my help. But if you ask me how to get somewhere, I’ll probably end up telling you to print out your own Google Map. Study it before you go, bring it with you, take your time…and don’t get lost!