Monday, June 29, 2009

It's not you, it's me.

Dear Jennifer,

Years ago, I remember you, eager to find a dress for your senior recital, inviting me to go with you to South Bend. We all know what happened on that trip, the endless driving back and forth on US 30 until we thought we would go mad, and the whole Michigan thing, and the mess with asking directions at the Walgreen’s drive thru window. We had a tough time, and Becky high on over the counter cold medication and laughing in the backseat didn’t help us much. Still, we blamed poor online directions and badly placed detour signs and called it a day. We did end up with a dress, after all.

And I remember Shannon, doling out directions by cell phone as we drove through West Lafayette. We thought it was her fault we got lost five minutes out of the driveway. We blamed darkness and bad signs again.

We decided then that we were jinxed. That we could never travel together in an unfamiliar area by car, or we would end up trapped in some freakish way, an endless paranormal loop of temporal distortion and highway hypnosis.

But it isn’t us, Jen. It’s me.

Dad flew out Friday morning at some un-Godly hour for annual conference, a Church of the Brethren thing that tries very hard to be Godly, with varying results. He decided without discussing it with me, who would have to suffer from his choice, to drive to the Fort Wayne airport without Mom at three-something in the morning, instead of taking her with him and having her drive home. Instead, two cars had to make that back and forth trip as Mom and I, following the end of business that Friday, drove all the way to the blasted airport and found his car in long term parking.

Gas money, paying for parking, an evening of driving instead of relaxing and watching MASH, you get the picture. Neither of us were happy, and we still had to drive home.

Anyway, we started to pull out of the parking lot and had to switch off, one of us going through one tollbooth thing, the other through another. And somehow, I ended up in front of Mom, driving out of the airport. And it occurred to me, no one had told me how to get home.

Two paths lay before me, an angry red car behind me, and no possible way to stop and wait. I could head toward the terminal (I didn’t want to go there) or I could go toward some big important sounding road that I thought we might have come in on (469). That fancy road (469) went south and west, or north and east, and it also ended up intersecting with the airport expressway, which sounded very familiar.

I pulled over. This was when it occurred to me that Mom ought to have taken Paul’s cell phone for the excursion, seeing as how the two of us, now separated, had no way of getting in touch with each other, save telepathy. So I waited.

Twenty minutes passed as I sat on tenterhooks (that’s a word, I swear) waiting for Mom to reach the intersection behind me. I would see her, I thought, and follow the direction she chose until it hooked me up with a location I remembered. But Mom never came.

I pulled out my cell phone, new and trendy as it is, and used it to find Yahoo maps, but it kept loading a blank page again and again until I found Google maps which made me download something and told me the download wouldn’t work because my phone needed more memory. All the while I was stopping every minute or so to call and call and call Paul. Nothing.

So I took the airport expressway.

In the wrong direction.

As soon as I discovered this, Jen, I switched directions only to end up at the Social Security Administration building, something that sounded awfully important, but it didn’t do me much good since there were no elderly pensioners to tell me where to go from there. And night was coming.

I called Paul again.

This time I got his voicemail, a good sign because this meant his phone was close enough to a window to get a signal, perhaps leading to it ringing and Paul realizing that someone was trying to call him in the first place. As you know, Jen, this isn’t always a guarantee with the reception around our house.

“Paul,” I gasped into the phone. “I don’t know where I am. I think I’m someplace wrong, and I’m at the Social Security Administration and Mom isn’t here and I don’t know where she is and I need you to pick up the phone and tell me where I am and where I should go because night is coming.”

He still has it saved on his phone. I may have sounded more pathetic.

Moments later, as I was beginning to pull out of the Social Security Administration Building’s parking lot, Paul called back.

I explained the situation again, summed up where I was and where I wanted to get, and waited.

“That’s very interesting, Laura, but I don’t know what you want me to do about it.”

I know my brother. That meant, “Okay, fine, I’m ready to hang up now so you can deal with your problem.”

I said, “I want you to get on the computer, look up Google Maps, and tell me where I am. As soon as I find out where I am to tell you how to get me back to you.”

I was distraught.

In fact, Paul really just kept me company until I got on 469, going north and east. North and east, Jen. North and east.

For a time, as Paul tried to talk me down to somewhere resembling calm, and as I drove 70 miles an hour in what I would soon discover was the wrong direction, I thought everything was going to be okay.

Then I realized.

I was going to Ohio.

In fact, I was skirting the border, perhaps even crossing it, as I talked to Paul.

Jen, you know Indiana geography. Ohio was not on my way home.

“Turn around!” Paul urged, spilling water on the surge protector (attached to his computer) in his haste to find a real map, since the internet wasn’t helping. Or really even loading.

But there was no where to turn around.

Then, miraculously, I saw a road I recognized. US 30. Sure, it was still going to take me east, but if there was a 30 East, there was bound to be a 30 West, right?

And there was. Only it was called 930 West and we figured out that it would take me to the road I had wanted all along, 69, which would take me to 24, which would take me home.

I drove through a town, I think it was called New Haven, or something like that. Some generic town name. What did I care, at that point.

Then I entered Fort Wayne. Because I had left it a half-hour behind me as I went so far away from all that I had known that it took ages to find it again.

Then I found Parkview Hospital.

Then I found the Coliseum.

Then I entered Fort Wayne’s downtown, where I passed First Pres, where my English professors had taken us so many times before, to watch Shakespeare plays.

Then I passed the Cathedral and the Botanical place where we had our formal in college.

Then I realized I was near the knit shop, which I knew how to get to without going on 69, a busy and crazy road that ends up having more fatalities than I wanted to think about at that time of night.

I called Paul again (we had hung up so he could clean up the water before it shorted out his PC).

“I know where I am!” I proclaimed.

“Good,” he said. A door slammed behind him.

“I even know a better way home!”

“Laura…” he warned.

“No, you don’t understand!” I said. “I am by the knit shop!” And I passed the new fancy Fort Wayne Library, with its fancy new building.

“Oh,” Paul said. “Okay then.”

Paul knew I knew how to get back and forth from the knit shop. I know that, at least.

And then he passed the phone to Mom. Who had, in the time that I had been lost, made it all the way back home, which is about an hour and a half away when you are not all the way where I had ended up, by Parkview. Then it becomes two hours.

I explained to Mom what had happened as I passed Jefferson Pointe, waving to Biaggi’s as I went by.

“It happened so fast,” she said. “It must have been less than a minute. I even waited for you to figure it out and come find me.”

She should have known better.

So as I am sure you and Shannon realized on your recent trip, you can find your way around alright without me. And if we ever go anywhere again, I tell you now:

Never listen to anything I say. I am wrong. I have the sense of direction of a piece of chocolate, or a pencil. Or a toothpick. Something inanimate. It would take a map, a compass, and the hand of God to get me out of a wet paper bag, or any other kind of paper bag, open field, or my own house.

Listen to the GPS. Don’t look at me, don’t let me tell you I know what I am talking about. Because I don’t.

The only common denominator in all of my funny lost in a strange place stories is me. That’s it. Just me. The only way I can travel in a strange place is by foot, because it takes me so long to walk that by the time I get to the end of a block, I have realized my mistake and fixed it.

I’m sorry about South Bend. I’m sorry about Purdue. It was my fault. I can’t remember what I did or said, but I’m sure it was me. And when Rachael and I ended up in Chicago’s Chinatown, I bet that was me too.

It was even me when Mom and I took the bus out of Oxford’s city center only to take a bus back into it, looking for a college that was across the street from our hotel.

I mean it, now. Don’t ever take my directions again. Make me drive. You navigate.

Your misguided but well meaning friend,



  1. Best blog yet--had me rolling on the floor--bravissimo!!