Wherein the only Ph.D. I will ever hold is in The Art Of Being Lost.
Originally published 1/3/2007
If I had to identify one of the most outstanding characteristics of my personality, it would unfortunately have to be my Stunning Inability To Locate Myself In Time And Space. I get lost all the time, so often in fact that there now exists a Greatest Hits Collection of my best “getting lost” stories:
-the time I got lost leading a group of friends who were helping us move into our new house
-the time in grad school when I got lost on The Loop in Athens, GA-it was a LOOP for crying out loud, with a FIXED NUMBER of places you could go. Eventually I HAD to find something that looked familiar-and called my husband (then boyfriend) who was in grad school in Atlanta to announce that, “It’s pitch black and I have no idea where I am. Oh and by the way, I’m completely out of gas and am running on fumes. And even if you wanted to come and rescue me you couldn’t, because there’s no way to tell you how to find me. Tell my parents I love them.”
-the time I was driving down Interstate 85, headed to the same place I’d gone every single Monday night for an entire year, missed my exit, got off the highway, turned around, and headed back in the opposite direction (because, HELLO, that’s supposed to work!), somehow ended up on an entirely different Interstate and had to call my husband to guide me home so I didn’t accidentally end up in Alabama.
-the time I was in Phoenix and had to physically drive to the airport in order to change my ticket so I could fly home early. But I didn’t actually know how to get to the airport from my hotel, even though I had driven that route only 4 days earlier, so I called my husband and asked him to guide me there. (I don’t think he minded that much, because it did give him an excuse to fire up Google Earth). Then I had to drive back to my hotel, the exact same way that I had just come only minutes earlier. But I got lost again and had to have him reverse all the directions for me verbally in order to make it back safely.
I truly am one of those people who needs to wear an ID bracelet at all times. But instead of having a medical alert mine would need to say, “While extremely proficient in exploring the realms of the mind, wearer is completely incapable of navigating herself around the physical world.”
My husband, of course, does not have this problem at all. As a matter of fact, he is so good at orienting himself in the physical realm of time and space that he would routinely call me up when we were in grad school to tell me about the trips he was taking with the outdoors club where they would drop everyone off in the North Georgia wilderness armed only with a topographical map of the area, a compass, and a knife, and tell them, “OK, meet back here tomorrow at this big, completely unidentifiable pile of rocks at the time when the sun causes the shadows to kind of look like the shape of a bird, or maybe more like a boat, over here on this equally unidentifiable patch of grass.” And he would.
It’s fortunate for him that he had this early training, because he actually got to put it to use a few months ago when he was on a business trip to El Paso, attending a meeting in Mexico.
He hadn’t brought much information with him, because he just planned to buy a map of Juarez in El Paso and then find his way around from there. Unfortunately there was not a single map of Juarez to be had anywhere in El Paso.
But at the moment when many others would’ve given up (“Hi, boss. You know that business you sent me down here to conduct for you? Well, unfortunately I’m not gonna be able to do it. Yeah, um, Mexico’s closed.”) he remained undaunted.
“Yeah, I couldn’t find a map,” he said. “But I had already been tracking the location of the plant on Google Earth (Um, WHAT?!) so I knew where it was. So I just went back to my hotel, downloaded the satellite images, used them to draw myself a paper map, counted the number of streets and landmarks like large buildings, and then traced my way back from the plant to the border.”
Oh, sure. That was gonna be my next suggestion.