23: My Long-Suffering Co-Pilot

23: My Long-Suffering Co-Pilot

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

My Long-Suffering Co-Pilot

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.

~Buddhist Saying

It’s hard to quantify how lousy my sense of direction is. If I had to guess, I’d venture to say that, at fifty-three, my frequent navigational goofs have added up to a total of five solid years of my life spent completely and hopelessly lost. And that’s just while driving. If you factor in false steps on foot, you’re up to seven years.

The two years squandered getting lost on foot I can live with. After all, the average adult spends two years of his life just waiting for the guy ahead of him at the post office to pick between the American flag or the Legends of Boogie-Woogie stamps.

It’s the five years lost in my car that makes me melancholy. After countless misguided journeys left me older but no wiser, my wife and long-suffering co-pilot, Sherry, suggested I keep a travel journal to chronicle trips of various durations, monitor driving patterns and — hopefully — learn from my mistakes.

Submitted for your amazement and pity are a few excerpts from that journal.

 

Orlando, August 2006

While driving from our hotel to a nearby attraction called Church Street Station, my wife and I become lost. What makes this unremarkable event remarkable is that once off the highway we actually see Church Street Station. In fact, we see it several times at close range as we drive from block to block. The problem is that a series of one-way streets keeps us from making the turns we want to make and soon Church Street Station disappears into the night.

Just when it appears things can’t get worse, the lighted, paved road we are on turns into an unlighted, dirt road and dead-ends abruptly at a metal gate by some rundown warehouses on the outskirts of the city. My wife, who has been uncommonly quiet for the last few minutes of our descent into oblivion, turns and says: “Is this the part where we stumble onto a drug deal going down and are bound and gagged while they take our car?” She’s such a kidder.

 

New Jersey, October 2009

While back in my home state for a cousin’s wedding, I decide to show my wife some of my old stomping grounds. Things go pretty well at first as I successfully find my way back to my first apartment, the office I worked at right out of college, and the state park where I use to hike. But heading back to the hotel it all unravels. It seems that some of my “old stomping grounds” were stomped on by other people in the years since I left. Their overzealous and gratuitous stomping resulted in new roads, new scenery, and more opportunities for me to get spectacularly, irreversibly lost.

Soon, we find ourselves in a gritty, bars-on-the-windows kind of town with the gas gauge almost on empty, darkness falling fast, and the sound of broken glass crunching under our tires as we stop for a red light. My wife, who has been uncommonly quiet for the last few minutes of our plunge into purgatory, turns and says: “Is this the part where we run out of gas, are taken hostage by a drifter named ‘Skunk’ and are featured in a story on Dateline entitled ‘Last Exit to Horror Cabin’?” I’m telling you, she’s such a joker.

 

Tijuana, April 2011

While sightseeing in California in our rented van, I accidently cross the U.S./Mexico border into Tijuana. At the border checkpoint, my wife and I explain our mistake to the Mexican crossing guard, asking if we could simply turn around and head back to the U.S. side. As he confers with another crossing guard, both gesturing disdainfully in our direction, we get the idea that “simply turning around” is not in the cards.

“You must drive through and follow signs back to border,” the guard snarls, motioning vaguely in the direction of downtown Tijuana.

As we forge on to find our way along Tijuana’s turbulent streets and alleys, we realize that following signs back to the border would require several things we don’t have going for us: luck, a sense of direction, and the ability to speak Spanish.

After plenty of wrong turns, we somehow wind up in a restricted commuter lane as we head back to the border. A pack of crossing guards converge on the van.

“W-w-what’s wrong?” I stammer, taking care to keep my hands where they can see them.

“Silence!” our friendly crossing guard erupts. “You are not authorized to use the Sentri commuter lane. Out of the van!”

My wife, who was uncommonly quiet for the last few minutes of our south of the border adventure, turns and says: “Is this the part where we’re taken off to a Mexican jail?” Such a wacky imagination, that wife of mine has.

 

So what have I learned about my horribly deformed sense of direction from my travel journal experiment?

I’ve learned that when I come to an intersection and confidently go left, I should have gone so far to the right it would make a conservative Republican proud. I’ve learned that when I decisively go straight ahead, I should have turned twenty miles back while there were still useful landmarks like buildings and living people. And I’ve learned that I can continue to count on being an accidental tourist, paying tolls on roads I shouldn’t have been on, and asking directions at gas stations so far removed from where I’m going that the name of my destination is “a new one” on the locals.

Just last night, coming home from work, I got detoured into an unfamiliar neighborhood and lost my bearings. As I circled the same streets for the third time, I could almost hear my wife say, “Is this the part where we decide to buy a home here and start life fresh instead of trying to find our way back out to the main road?”

My wife. She sure makes a lot of sense sometimes.

 

~Alan Williamson

More stories from our partners