My long and winding roads

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the sign proclaiming "Connecticut." I was, I thought, safely in New York. Then again, I was famous for getting lost. I knew I was in deeper trouble when the only habitation in sight was a seedy convenience store. So I strode inside and shouted over the din, "Does anybody know what state this is?" All eyes turned to me, and suddenly the whole place was silent.

Getting lost is one of my talents, I think, as is losing track of time. You see, I get lost because I enjoy the journey. This annoys my husband ("Please don't point out that garden," he says. "I'm trying to concentrate on the road.") and amuses my friends.

I view street signs as suggestions, highway signs as distractions. Better to direct me the way my eyes work: Turn left at the white picket fence, right by the wisteria-laden porch, straight past the pond filled with swans. I once had the giddy experience of receiving directions like this. I was the very first to arrive at the party.

But few people are like me, squeezing pleasure from the sights along the road. It is a cultivated habit, as is my refusal to wear a watch.

It has been 20 years since I ended my daily watch-wearing. Others marvel at my inability to tell time internally, and sometimes quiz me for their own amusement. At work, of course, I cannot indulge in this luxury. There, I surround myself with a few discreetly placed clocks.

But at home, I throw myself into the delight of a watch-free day. My children and I might wander happily through an afternoon, drifting from garden to playground to library. They have learned not to ask me the time - I could be off by a few hours. Instead, they seem to wring pleasure, as I do, from every ignored minute.

I thought of these idiosyncrasies of mine a great deal last weekend, when my best friend was married. I should mention that her wedding took place in Boston, a city where getting lost is an art form. An enterprising driver must navigate rotaries, twisting roads, one-way streets, and intersections marked only with the name of the cross street, leaving motorists to wonder what street they're on.

Direction-giving in Boston is a cinch for people like me.

"Turn left at Hammond Avenue" doesn't work if the sign is missing. But "turn left at the house with the rose arbor" does. Unfortunately, I was neither giving directions nor driving. So a 20-minute trip from the rehearsal to the restaurant exploded into an hour's tour of Boston and Cambridge, which only one of us in the car truly enjoyed (guess who?).

Scurrying into the rehearsal dinner, we ran smack into a frenzied maitre d', holding aloft a cordless phone. "Can anyone give this man directions?" he shouted.

This was, I thought later, a remarkable example of foreshadowing. My friend's wedding was to start promptly at 4:30 p.m. the next day. But by that time three people were noticeably absent: the bride's eldest sister and two bridesmaids. Soon the maid of honor was engaged in whispered sidebars with the words "police" and "delay" clearly audible.

By 5 o'clock, two nervous ushers announced to the puzzled congregation - to nervous laughter -that we were awaiting "very important guests." The organist whispered that he had run out of music, and would someone be so kind as to fetch more, since this was "the longest improvisation of my life"?

Eventually, the bridesmaids arrived, flushed and laughing, having explored fully the far reaches of Chestnut Hill. The bridal party, recognizing a good wedding story, delayed the ceremony further, until everyone could stop laughing.

Later, I realized that none of us had been wearing a watch. We recognized the hilarity of our little predicament, just as we celebrated with our marrying friends. The bridesmaids may have had the misfortune to get lost in Boston, but we had been fortunate enough to lose ourselves in the moment.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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