Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Why I always give trusting strangers wrong directions
I think people are always asking me for directions because I walk with a confident stride and have a friendly face. When I’m out for a stroll, I look like the kind of guy who really knows where he’s going.
It’s yet another triumph of appearance over competence because I have no idea where even familiar places are.
But that never stops me from pretending I do.
Happened again just the other day. A confused elderly woman pulled up beside me as I was out for my morning constitutional. She said, “I am so lost. Can you please tell me how to get to Beechview Avenue?”
“I’ll be happy to!” I said. “Make a left at the second light, turn right at the gas station and just keep going. You’ll run right into Beechview. You can’t miss it!”
You could just see the relief wash over her face. A friendly stranger had cheerfully appeared out of nowhere and vanquished all her concerns. Her thanks were effusive.
Because I’d never heard of a Beechview Avenue, I decided to send her down a long country road. It can be very unsettling being lost in an unfamiliar town. I thought on this beautiful fall day it would be far better for her if she could at least be lost someplace more scenic.
I remember the time a middle aged couple with Ohio plates asked me to help them find the Latrobe post office.
I told them they’d just driven right past it.
“People ask that all the time,” I said, eager to put them at ease. “It’s very poorly marked. Go back the way you came and park outside the store with the Dainty Pastry sign out front. The post office is in there.”
In fact, the post office is about a quarter-mile down the same road in a big grey building with an official-looking “U.S. Post Office” sign out front. But they don’t sell no donuts in there.
Dainty Pastry does and they’re delicious. They have this glazed pretzel-shaped donut I get about once a week or so. And the friendly Dainty Pastry staff will brighten anyone’s day.
The Ohio couple looked to me like people more in need of donuts than stamps.
I think my eagerness to direct people to places they think they don’t want to go stems back to a childhood vacation when the old man was taking us to the Big Apple.
I remember him getting hopelessly lost somewhere near Newark. We could see Manhattan, but had no idea how get there. Desperate for progress, he pulled into a gas station where we were met by a kid who, I swear, grew up to play Paulie Walnuts in “The Sopranos.”
“Can you help us, please?” Dad asked. “We’re trying to get to midtown and I have no idea which bridge we’re supposed to take.”
“Why, sure, I can. Where youse folks from?”
“Pittsburgh,” my Dad said.
In hindsight, I don’t whether that was the right or wrong answer. Maybe the wise guy had a former girlfriend from Pittsburgh who’d treated him cruelly. Or maybe he loved Jack Lambert from the old Steelers and felt Pittsburghers enjoyed overcoming logistical challenges.
Either way, he spun a glorious tapestry of mis-direction that had us speeding north up the Jersey turnpike, crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge, heading west through the Lincoln Tunnel and back again.
I may be mistaken, but I recall Dad parking the old Ford Fairmont near the base of the Statue of Liberty so Mom could use the restroom — and Liberty Island is inaccessible to vehicular traffic.
Even through the recollected static of my frustrated father’s profane outbursts, it’s a wonderful memory.
Of course, today no one needs ever get lost again. We just punch the coordinates in the phone and follow the little green arrows.
That’s good, sure, but we’re losing the serendipity of unplanned discovery.
We somehow wind up missing so much whenever we always end up going exactly where we think we need to go.
I can foresee a day not far off when telling someone to get lost is no longer an insult.
It’ll be travel advice for people interested in enjoying an offbeat vacation.
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