Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

July 22, 2012

Finding — and losing — direction

On a road trip for work, I was feeling really good about my traveling companion.

I am directionally challenged. If there is a 50 percent chance of making a wrong turn in an unfamiliar area, I will make the wrong turn. I'm the one trying to do a U-turn while looking nonchalant on a narrowing dead-end street in some crumbling neighborhood in Newark (done that) or the equivalent.

Not having an internal compass — except for an uncanny ability to find a restaurant I loved in some distant city that I haven't been to in, oh, 30 years — is a terrible way to live unless you never have to leave home. Would that it were.

Getting an iPhone helped. I use its map feature religiously. However, it's about one step removed from texting while driving, since I hold and have to keep looking at it to stay on course.

On this last trip, I took along a portable GPS that tells you directions while you drive. She (I came to think of it as a her) got me in and out of a warehouse district in Chicago at rush hour. She led me to a rural Indiana farm that was miles from a main road, and that would have taken me ages to find.

Exhausted after a long day in the car, I happily let her lead me to the hotel that night.

The next day, I took some pleasure in detouring without telling her and having her get agitated telling me to turn around, make a U-turn, do whatever it takes to get back on the motorway. But the rest of the time, I was oh-so-grateful to not be getting lost.

So it was with that sense of security that I let her take me to my hotel in Columbus the second night. Unlike the previous day, I anticipated getting in early, taking a long walk and having a sit-down dinner instead of eating on the run.

But as I drove, I realized I was getting farther and farther away from Columbus. I trusted her and drove on.

Finally, I called the hotel and learned I was on the right road, but at the opposite end of the universe and had driven about 30 miles out of the way.

So it was back to the city. Then I got to the hotel, a major chain, and it gave me the creeps. I have a perception that certain major chains mean a certain standard of safety and cleanliness, and found neither. By the time I found another hotel, drove through for a sandwich and got to my room, it was after 8:30. Sigh.

For about 48 hours, it was nice to believe that with her, I would always be able to find my way,

Instead, I learned that if my destiny is a crumbling cul-de-sac (or ratty hotel), there is nothing that a GPS --or anything else — can do to stop it.

Kathy Gibbons can be reached at

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