Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Road Less Traveled the Better

I am directionally challenged. There, I said it. My name is Sally Marks and I am directionally challenged. It must be genetic. My dad used to say my mom could get lost exiting a phone booth. I must have followed in her confused footsteps. Decades later, and even in my home town of Mesa, AZ, I can (and do) lose my way on a regular basis. 

I joke that I tried to take a wrong turn down the birth canal. The story goes that I was my mom’s longest and most difficult labor. Apparently I wouldn’t turn my head and the doctor couldn’t reach me with forceps. Doctors were more reluctant to do c-sections at that time. Mom, the doctor and my dad (who was asleep in the waiting area) just had to wait until my head slipped into place. But I don’t know if I was lost or just reluctant to leave the womb. It’s a memory long forgotten.

However, I do remember another time I had difficulty finding my way. I was probably nine years old. My brother, Terry, and I attended a YMCA summer school event at a neighboring school. I don’t remember the details, but we were dropped off at the site in the morning and the plan was to wait out front and we would be picked up when the program ended in the afternoon. The problem was there was no event that day. Mom must have dropped us off at the wrong school, or on the wrong date.

Terry and I found our way to the locked cafeteria. A maintenance man saw us pulling on the door and must have assumed we were vandals. When we explained we were looking for the YMCA he said, “I’ll YMCA you!” This was not a time to discuss the matter. We ran away – as fast as our little sneakers would take us. Since it was obvious we couldn’t hang around on campus, we decided to walk home. 

I am two years old than Terry, but when you are a little kid, those two years make a big difference. I took my role as the big sister to heart, took charge, and boldly headed off in a direction that I thought would lead to our neighborhood. No doubt I didn’t have a clue, but I certainly thought I did. So we walked. I’m sure we didn’t amble for too long, but it felt like it. It always seems that way when you don’t know if you’re headed in the right direction or not. I should know. I have that feeling a lot, but I’m usually behind the wheel of a car when this happens. The exception is when I’m in the parking lot trying to find my car. But I digress.
The journey home from the YMCA-camp-that-wasn’t was before cell phones, so we couldn’t call anyone. And it was summer in Arizona, so there weren’t any folks wandering around to ask for directions. I considered knocking on someone’s door and asking for help, but I didn’t think it would be wise to take that risk. It wasn’t just me, I had my younger brother to protect. Anyway, we boldly walked where no Marks had walked before, and hoped for the best.

After what seemed like hours (probably 15 minutes) I started to get nervous. Nothing looked familiar. At one point we scanned the sky and looked off into the distance. We shrieked in delight. We saw a useful landmark, the golden poles of the Apache Lanes Bowling Alley sign glinting in the sun. Our home was five houses away from the rear of the bowling alley, so we had a beacon to follow. We were so excited we ran the rest of the way home.

Years, OK, decades, have passed from the first misadventure. I know I’m prone to losing my way so I try to compensate by writing out a list of directions (maps don’t help me) I check for landmarks, and I use a GPS whenever possible. I have also been known to call friends who play the role of traffic controller and guide me to my destination. Needless to say, I’m not too proud to ask for help.

 Usually I stay close to home, or let someone else take the wheel on trips. However, my life took a different course. I started a new job and had to travel to Rock Island, Illinois for work. The first time I took this journey I declined the use of a rental car. It was still snowing in the Midwest, and as a desert girl who has never driven in snow or ice, I did not want to take a chance navigating on icy roads. Luckily I work for Royal Neighbors of America, and when I explained my situation they went out of their way to accommodate me and my transportation needs. It’s one of many reasons Royal Neighbors has earned the distinction of being voted a great place to work.

However, for my next trip in April, the weather had improved. I had no excuse to decline a rental car, and I did not want to rely on the help of others because of my directionally-challenged brain. I went online and studied maps of the area, I had my daughter download a GPS Ap on my droid, and even gave it a test run in Arizona so I would be confident that it worked.  I also built in extra time for each trip – just in case. 

Well as luck would have it, the GPS Ap that worked so well from the well-traveled seven-mile road from my daughter’s house to my abode, would not power up. I had studied the area, but rather than take anything to chance, I asked the hotel clerk for directions. The older woman at the desk gave me great instructions. My younger readers may not appreciate this observation, but older people give better directions.  I guess it’s a small bone that life throws at us for being on the planet a long time. Anyway, I made it to the town (yes, I forgot to ask for the exit and the right way to get to the office) but after a few incorrect turns I recognized some landmarks from my earlier trip the month before, read a few streets signs, and eventually got to work with 15 minutes to spare. 

Okay, yes, I left the hotel an hour before and it was only a 20 minute trip under normal circumstances, but hey, I made it. During my time during this work trip I ventured out by car eight times and got lost two out of eight attempts. I had the trip to work and the hotel under control, but we had an event at a nearby hotel and casino for our womenLEAD Forum and found myself headed in the opposite direction.  But I stopped (twice) asked for directions, and eventually found my way. I also successfully navigated my way to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and flew home without a hitch.

So what is the point of this rambling story? Sometimes things that seem easy for some are a confusing ordeal for others. My request is to show others compassion when navigating the highway, and throughout our existence on this planet. During our journey in life you don’t know where life is going to take you (especially if you’re in a car and I’m driving.) But if you don’t get too upset, look around you, ask for help now and again, and learn to enjoy the ride, you will eventually get where you need to be.

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