I was thinking the other day, how did we ever find our way to an unfamiliar place before Mapquest or GPS? Well, the fact is, we either a) looked at an outdated map that showed roads that were wiped out in the last ice age, or b) we asked for directions, which is why people always got lost before our Savior Technology intervened to make our lives inexpressibly easier (wow, I actually said that with a straight face. Maybe I have a career in politics). I’m pretty sure that Minnesota was settled by people looking for California who just got lost. No one in his right mind would endure those winters on purpose. But I digress…
In any event, times have changed. Anyone who would now look at a map might as well use Mapquest, which is just as accurate as outdated maps, and anyone that has GPS probably has enough money to settle down wherever he or she winds up anyway. There are certain holdouts, though, who still insist getting or giving good old-fashioned oral driving directions. Unfortunately, our ability to give accurate and helpful directions seems to have faded with our ability to hunt the wooly mammoth with only a stick and the carcass of a small dead animal. Driving directions should consist of words like these: start here, turn right on this street, turn left on this street…it’s on the right. Simple, consistent, to the point. Unfortunately, many people now, when asked “How do I get to Highway 80?” take this as an opportunity to describe the illustrious history of their little slice of the good Earth or give you a 15 minute travelogue describing all the alluring sites you might see in Saxapawhaw, North Carolina. I despise these people. So for everyone out there whom I might ask for directions to the nearest road out of town, please keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Never, under any circumstances, give me landmarks that no longer exist. When I first moved to Greenville, SC, I asked someone for directions to a certain road and went to the trouble to tell them that I had just moved to town. The response? “Oh, it’s easy. It’s just down there behind where the Old Shriners Hospital used to be 400 years ago.” What?! Don’t point me to Old Man Lucas’ farmhouse that burned down 50 years ago or the place in the road where those two sisters got hit by that runaway stage coach. I just don’t care.
2. If your directions include the words “over the crick”, “dirt road”, “bend in the road”, “hollar” or “up to where the flood come last year”, nevermind. Wherever I end up on my own has got to be better than where I’m trying to find.
3. Regarding landmarks that DO exist…Do not give me the name of every building, the owner of every house, the species of every tree, nature of every body of water, or the etymology of the name of every street I will be crossing between here and my destination. A simple “right on Elm Street, left on Main Street” will suffice.
4. Don’t use gestures to direct me to my destination. The last time I tried to follow directions like this, I ended up in a perpetual figure 8 going the wrong direction on a one way dead end street – the most boring 6 months of my life. Besides, I’m probably facing you when you are gesturing which means I then have to reverse everything in my head. I have a finite number of brain cells. Help me save a few and don’t do this.
5. Additional Commentary on Rule 4: If you are giving me directions over the phone, don’t use gestures. First, I can’t see them. Secondly, you probably think I can, so you omit crucial information. Thirdly, you look like an idiot to everyone around you. I’m just trying to protect your dignity. You’re welcome.
6. Don’t give me 37 different routes to get to one place. Pick one and commit to it. If it turns out not to be the easiest or fastest way, I’ll never know it. I’m lost anyway.
7. If you don’t know the names of the streets on which I should be turning, just tell me that you don’t know how to get to where I’m going. There was once a dear lady in our church who tried to give my mother directions to a store across town. She told my mother to go down a certain road to another road and turn right. She didn’t know the name of the road onto which Mom was to turn, but she insisted that it was there. She actually told my mother “I don’t know the name of the road, but it’s way down there. You’ll think you’ll never get to it, but just keep going. Then turn right.” Mom did just that. She missed my 10th, 11th, and 12th birthdays, but we did get some really, really cool souvenirs from 19 different third world countries.
8. Finally, and most importantly, if you don’t know how to get to where I want to go, don’t try to give me directions. If I ask “How do I get to the interstate from here?” and you say “I don’t know,” I promise I will not hate you, I won’t think less of you as a human being and I won’t burn down your house and shoot your dog. If you do give me wrong directions, well then, that’s another story. Just remember, I may have trouble finding where I want to go, but I can always find my way back to where I was.
So that’s it. It’s not hard. Go with the “turn left on this street, turn right on this street approach” and we’ll both be fine. It’s simple. No one gets lost. No one gets hurt.