I don’t know what it is about me that makes people think I know what I’m doing. But maybe once a month or so I’ll get accosted on the street by a fearful tourist who is hopelessly lost and desperate for some directional advice. It doesn’t matter how many people are around me, they seem to gravitate toward me alone – as if pulled by some unknown force. And I dread every single encounter.
I have a confession to make: I suck at giving directions. OK, that’s not universally true. Give me a map and stick me in the passenger seat, next to the driver in a car, in a foreign city, and I can direct you anywhere. But if I’m walking down a street in my own home city and someone asks me what street I passed a block earlier, I’m likely to stare at you blankly. I’m ashamed. I’m very ashamed.
Maybe there’s something wrong with my brain; some sort of missing neuronal interaction that causes me to fail so completely at fulfilling this basic societal role. When I see people holding maps and looking around them confusedly, I can feel my blood pressure rise, my steps hasten, my eyes flit toward the nearest alley for me to disappear into. It’s a miracle that I make my way successfully anywhere. Sometimes even the simplest directions elude me. Even when I must guide myself to a place I’ve been a dozen times before I’m liable to fail miserably. All I can say is: thank goodness for the advent of iPhones and Google Maps.
Last week, for instance, I was innocently making my way to the SkyTrain station when a handsome young American in a tweed jacket begged me for help. He needed to catch the No. 3 bus to Main and 33rd. My brain rumbled noisily to life, like a rusty old engine. Having no idea where to catch this particular bus, I optimistically pulled out my iPhone and together we navigated Google Maps in search of constructive guidance. Why is it that when another person is watching, my fingers fumble horribly? At last at the right screen, I try to orient myself, but my brain has suddenly turned to mush and North and South could as well be words from a foreign language for all I’m able to make sense of them.
My direction-less senses over-tapped, I mumble an explanation of the way and he listens carefully, his panic deepening as he tries to memorize my convoluted instructions. At the end of it, he politely thanks me and walks tentatively into the distance. And I feel sorry for him because it soon occurs to me that I incorrectly oriented myself – he should turn left, not go straight when he leaves the station as I’d advised him. But it’s too late to hunt him down now. Besides, I might just lead him astray again. As I hop onto the train, I feel deeply guilty and incompetent. And it isn’t even 8 am yet.
So here’s a word of advice: if you are ever in Vancouver, and lost, please avoid all tall and slender men with beards and grey eyes. One of them is me. And trust me, you’re better off without me when it comes to finding your destination.