“We’re lost, huh, Mommy,” came the tiny voice from the back seat of the car. My 3-year old, strapped safely into his car seat, happily munching on a snack of raisins, was wise beyond his years. He had heard me say, Uh, oh, as we were driving, and he had learned, in his short life, exactly what that meant…. we were lost. “No, no, we’re fine”, I lied. Of course, we weren’t fine. I was driving straight into Boston, a city, although a mere 20 miles from where we lived, I NEVER ventured into by car. At least not in a car that I was driving. The streets were too confusing and the traffic too congested for me, and I had no idea how to get out of it. However, on this day, I had taken a wrong turn and there I was, heading straight into one of the most impossible to navigate cities in the country, with its narrow, one way, signless streets, traffic jams, and detours. This was in an era that predated cell phones, MapQuest, and GPS systems. I was on my own and panicking. Since I am sitting here in my office at home, many decades later, I obviously managed to find my way out of the expressway maze and make it home before dinner, but that was only one in a multitude of incidents that befell this woman born with faulty directional brain cells. ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-brain-cells-tell-us-where-were-going/) I was happy to learn that this is an actual affliction.
This is a hereditary condition, as not one person on the paternal side of my family could make it from Point A to Point B without getting impossibly confused and lost until GPS was invented.
This condition is also not limited to driving. I once got lost walking in my own neighborhood; I never know which way to turn when I get off of an elevator; I never know which way to turn when leaving a doctor’s examining room, regardless of the “exit” signs. Ever notice how many of them there are and in how many areas they are placed?
IF I learned the way to a particular place that I frequented often, all was good unless I had to go somewhere else before going home. I could get from Point A ( my home) to Point B ( my first destination). But if I needed to go to Point C, I would have to return to Point A and start from scratch. I could not seem to get from B to C. It was not only embarrassing, but it also used up a LOT of gas.
My mishaps are endless. I have driven 50 miles round trip out of the way when I was looking for a restaurant 5 miles from my parent’s apartment; I have ridden around my own city for an hour looking for the home of one of my tutoring students, which I never found. I have driven the entire width of the State of RI, looking for a place that was completely in the opposite direction. (That was my sister’s fault. She, who was in the passenger seat, and who suffers from the same familial affliction, read the address incorrectly.) I have gotten lost in a housing development one mile from my own home. In my defense, have you ever driven through those neighborhoods that are designed in circles? I have gotten lost in the CORRIDOR of my parent’s apartment building, trying to find the elevator. Again, in my defense, a door closing off the corridor that led to the elevator had accidentally shut, and well, let’s just say that is an incident I have never lived down.
I lived in the Boston area for 30+ years, where, although I was always getting lost, at least when I asked for directions, I understood what I was told. 14 years ago, I moved to Florida, where they speak a different directional language than us Northerners. During one of my first solo driving trips after moving here, I managed to find my way to a mall, but was confused as to how to get home. (This was 2006, right before Smartphones and GPS systems.) I asked a clerk in one of the stores how to get to 95 North. I knew enough to know that highway would get me home. She said, “Go East out of the parking lot and……..”. I never let her finish. “What???? What??? What are you TALKING ABOUT?”, I exclaimed, totally dumbfounded. I asked her if she meant LEFT or RIGHT. She didn’t seem to understand MY language. She kept saying East, and I kept asking LEFT or RIGHT? She finally pointed which way I should go.
I asked one of my new Florida friends how to get to a particular store, and after telling me which street to take, she informed me that the store was on the West side of the street. ?????????? How am I supposed to know which is the West side of the street? She also did not seem to get the concept of left and right. Don’t Floridian parents teach their kids left and right? I don’t recall any parents I ever knew teaching their kids to differentiate between their West hand and their East hand.
The world changed for me the day I opened my front door and saw a package addressed to me from my husband’s cousin, who owned an electronic store back in Massachusetts. What could David be sending me, I wondered. I eagerly opened the box to find…………. a GPS unit!!!!!!!! They were new at the time, and not standard equipment in cars and on cell phones as they are now.
The first time I used it, and “she” clearly explained each turn to take without raising her voice or losing patience with me ( as my husband sometimes did), I nearly cried with joy.
That was about 10 years ago. Since then I have upgraded many times to newer GPS units, but I never go anywhere new without my most trusted directional friend plugged into my dashboard. “She” has taken me hundreds of miles both North to Orlando and South to Miami. She doesn’t mind that she needs to give me the same directions each time; she calmly tells me not to go to the right on the turnpike, even though the sign indicates that I should; she keeps repeating that same instruction until she is sure I am on the right path. If I make a mistake, and veer off her directions, she patiently explains which turns I should take to get back on track.
I Googled it, and found out that “In 1983, Gary Burrell recruited Min H. Kao from the defense contractor Magnavox while working for the former King Radio. They founded Garmin in 1989 in Lenexa, Kansas, as “ProNav”. ProNav’s first product was a GPS unit which sold for US$2,500.”
Thank you Mr. Burrell and Mr. Kao. You are my heroes.