Turn left at Albuquerque

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At 47 there are things I think I should know by now, like how to fold a fitted sheet, or how to make jam, or how to successfully wrestle a piece of cling film over a plate of cold chicken.

I can get by without those skills. It’s easy enough to keep the linen-closet door closed, buy jam, and use tin foil.

But the skill I think would be most useful is knowing which way is north. Once you know that you can figure out the rest, I assume.

I come from a line of disoriented people. It’s a genetic failing. I don’t want to get too sciencey here, but the long and short of it is our “grid cells” are fuzzy, which indicates they aren’t very grid-like, I guess.

My grandmother always thought she was headed north, unless she was going downhill. Then, of course, she was going south.

My cousin Jenny has no clue where she’s going. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever see her again. I can imagine her driving from gas station to gas station asking for directions and then forgetting which way to turn out of the parking lot. On her first trip to Stratford (Ontario) from Holland Landing (near Newmarket) she somehow ended up in Hamilton. I’m not great with maps but I’m certain Hamilton is not on the way.

Of all the places to land, Hamilton is possibly the scariest too. I have gone in squares around the downtown for what seems like an entire afternoon. I often use moving landmarks like hot dog carts to orient myself.

In Hamilton I used the smokers standing outside the Tim Hortons, sipping their coffees, as I travelled up and down those one-way streets. “Have I been down this one before? Yup, there’s the guy in the grey hoodie with the plaid jacket. Ugh!”

The trouble getting out of Hamilton is the reason people live there. They have run out of gas, given up, and bought property.

I see a lack of direction as a flaw, for sure, but certainly not a lack of intelligence. If I recall correctly even Bugs Bunny made a few wrong turns around Albuquerque. But he still outsmarted Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Yosemite Sam, and a vampire. Mind you, none of them are Mensa candidates but when you add it all up, it’s impressive.

I don’t have a lot in common with Bugs Bunny when I’m behind the wheel. I’m more like Daffy Duck, if “you’re despicable” was updated to “HEY, *&%#!@, #$@%&, &**%@!#.”

Tony says I get lost pulling out of the driveway. That’s kind of true. I often don’t know which way to turn as I get close to the road, so the last few feet of the driveway can be harrowing. My indecision has caused me to skim the retaining wall beside the driveway causing my bumper to pop off on one side. I have to get out and smash it back in before my neighbours see.

One time I lost part of the bumper when I rolled over a chunk of ice on the boulevard. I had to get out and collect shards of red metal strewn across the sidewalk. It looked like dollar-store party streamers had exploded. The mechanic got those mega-twist tie things and sewed the largest pieces back on. Now the front of my car looks like Frankenstein. I can’t have anything nice.

It makes me look like a bad driver which is deceiving because I’m really quite excellent. I don’t go too fast or too slow, like everyone else.

I moved to Kitchener a few years ago and I have learned one route to get to each place I need to go—the bank, the grocery stores (two of them), the mall, bookstores and bakeries. One of the bakeries moved, I don’t have great hopes of finding it—no more Portuguese custard tarts for me.

I can also get to a few different highway on-ramps, and there’s a 50/50 chance I will choose the one headed in the right direction.

Kitchener-Waterloo is especially torturous if you have directional dyslexia because it’s the construction capital of the world. Everyday there’s a new street closure. It’s like living on a Rubic’s Cube that keeps turning.

On one of my darker days I came up to a road-closed sign, turned right, snaked through more construction down narrow streets only to reach another road-closed sign. I considered jumping into the hole behind the backhoe. It was only about three feet deep but still, I could have twisted my ankle. I was that distraught.

Now that I have GPS on my phone my life should be easier. But I rarely use it. I either don’t think of it or I think I can probably find my destination, plus if I have to listen to that bossy woman tell me what to do I have to turn down the music.  It’s just too inconvenient.

When I do finally pull over on the side of some country road as transports whizz past and rock my car as I type in my address, I kind of love the idea of GPS. It gives me confidence that I will get home. But then those horror stories of people who follow their GPS into the ocean or a swamp and die makes me think it might be better to go on instinct. I might be frequently late and panicked but I haven’t driven off a cliff.

Maybe, as my biological clock stops ticking my internal compass with finally kick in and my direction will be clear. I won’t worry anymore about never getting home, or ending up somewhere else, like Hamilton.

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One Comment

  1. Robin Wilhelm

    Great article Laura,and boy can I sympathize! I’m also directionally challenged, a fact which gives great glee to my now grown children. I often visit them in Kitchener, and sometimes I’ve overshot the exit to the 7-8 highway. I now know if I hit the BMW dealership on Victoria, I’ve gone too far. This is now a family joke and my kids delight in reminding me not to go as far as the BMW dealership. Maybe one day I’ll surprise them and buy a BMW…then I’ll have an excuse!

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