Every trip becomes an all-out adventure

I am lost – again. I'm roaming the freeway searching for a street name scribbled on paper or a place to exit gracefully and ask directions – which I'll probably have no concept how to follow.

How many times have I uttered those futile words, "Where am I?" I go in a door, come out, and can't remember whether to turn right or left. Where is the elevator? Where did I park the car? How do I get home?

Folks like me are what the politically correct experts call "directionally challenged." In other words, we have absolutely no sense of direction.

The north-pointing needle on a compass turns to noodles in my hands. Yes, I know the sun sets in the west, but that doesn't help locate specific streets or buildings.

Reading a map is easy if the blocks are square and streets perpendicular; however, most towns aren't laid out that way.

My college roommate suffered from the same affliction, so the two of us traveling together anywhere (and we spent six weeks in Mexico one summer) created an extra level of confusion, er, excitement. We often wandered the streets of Puebla in central Mexico (ostensibly sightseeing or shopping) until something familiar crossed our path, or we gave up and hailed a taxi. But we understood the dilemma and developed a Zen-like acceptance of eventually reaching our destination, no matter how long it might take.

After I married and had children, they always knew that a trip to the city with Mom was an adventure that could lead anywhere.

It wasn't so bad when they were little and had no clue where we were going. But they weren't able to point me in the right direction, either.

Fortunately, that changed as they got older. Once, on a return trip from the ballet, we toured all the downtown streets before I deferred to my oldest daughter, whose sense of direction far outpaced mine, and let her navigate us through the maze.

My husband, on the other had, drives by intuition. He "just knows" the right way to go. If he's anywhere near the intended destination (or even if he traveled the route 10 years before), he's confident that he'll find the place by gut feeling. And he does.

I wouldn't dare leave home when searching for a new office or neighborhood without an address, phone number, and detailed map any more than I'd leave home without being dressed. Even so, I allow extra time for freeway circling.

I neglected this cardinal rule the other day because I planned to follow my husband's car along an unfamiliar route.

Predictably, just as we reached the area where I no longer knew the directions, another car cut in front of me and my husband sped through the green light, under the freeway, and was out of sight. Having no address, no directions, and absolutely no clue where I was headed, I drove in circles for half an hour – near the mall, away from the mall, and back again. Finally, I pulled into a parking lot, called his cellphone, and told him to find me.

If I have driven to a particular place once, that does not guarantee I'll be able to find it another time – or even that I'll be able to get back home without a detour. Nothing ever looks familiar, and I simply cannot transpose directions for a return trip.

Experts would say that I don't pay attention to my surroundings, but I'm convinced it's something else. I'm absolutely in awe of people who instinctively build a mental map of their environment.

I, on the other hand, upon exiting a doorway in a hotel, always seem to turn left, even if the elevator is still down the hall to the right, exactly where it was last time I rode it.

Tomorrow I have an appointment at an office to which I've never been. Will I find the right building? Of course. Will I find it on the first try? Probably not. Will I be flustered when I arrive? Always. Will I hesitate to venture out next time? No.

I have learned to adjust and compensate for my shortcomings. When the receptionist asks, as I'm leaving, if I had any trouble finding the place, I'll say, "Of course not," and scurry out the exit – if I can find it.

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