Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Frank Road Fiasco & Other Tales of the Navigationally Impaired

     My name is Kris, and I am directionally challenged. If, by some chance, you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to give me directions, I will kindly ask you now to refrain from using descriptors such as "North", "South", "East", or "West." These words are meaningless to me, especially when I am lost, which apparently is most of the time. Modern technology has helped somewhat. To think that I managed to survive the majority of my adult life without the help of Mapquest or a GPS is utterly staggering; these innovations truly have revolutionized the way I get from point A to point B. But, my GPS has failed me on more than one occasion. I'm convinced it came equipped with a Dr. Seuss "Oh, the places you'll go!" mind of its own. For instance, it is hopelessly confused by downtown Atlanta, a city under constant construction which is made up almost entirely of one-way streets. My personal favorite is being alerted that "Your device needs to be restarted to increase its performance" two seconds before it shuts itself down, a phenomenon which usually occurs as I'm negotiating a major metropolitan highway exchange for the first time, rendering me completely helpless until the damn thing reboots.
     My navigational disorder declared itself in 1990 when my first husband, Jim, and I were closing on our new house in Marietta. I was pregnant with Nick and Rory at the time, and was finishing up my pediatric nursing rotation at Scottish Rite Hospital. The plan was for me to meet Jim and my mother, who was our real estate agent, around 3:30 pm at the closing attorney's office on Roswell Road to sign the paperwork. Having lived in Atlanta for several years, I knew exactly where Roswell Road was, or so I thought. After finishing my duties at the hospital, I waddled out to my car. It was a sweltering hot day in late June and my poor old Toyota's air-conditioner was suffering from a serious freon deficiency. Bracing myself for an unpleasant drive through Friday afternoon traffic, I rolled the windows down, and headed toward the Buckhead area via Johnson Ferry Road. I took Ashford-Dunwoody to Peachtree, and from there, I picked up Roswell Road. I drove all the way to Roswell before noticing that none of the street numbers matched the address I'd been given. Thinking I'd missed something, I turned around and headed back toward Atlanta. Again, there were no matching numbers. I traversed this same route a couple more times while the traffic thickened around me but still, nothing. My panic began to escalate. I suddenly had no idea where I was or where I was going...they did tell me Roswell Road, didn't they? Sticky with sweat and overwhelmed by an urgent need to pee, I could feel myself losing ground on that slippery slope which descends into the dreaded realm of pregnant lady hysterics. In a meltdown of epic proportions, I sobbed and shrieked like a madwoman as I drove frantically up and down Peachtree Street, looking for a pay phone. It was now close to 5 pm. I stopped and called the attorney's office, and he put Jim on the phone. This was how I learned that Atlanta has TWO Roswell Roads, one which goes from Atlanta to Roswell, and one which goes from Roswell to Marietta. Naturally, I was on the wrong Roswell Road. Although Jim had power of attorney, I think I made it to the closing, wherever the hell it was, just in time to sign the papers myself.
     Seven years later, we moved from Marietta to Macon. I'd been accepted into medical school at Mercer University and we bought a house in a nice neighborhood five miles from campus. One evening, I drove over to the school to participate in a "mandatory" first year study group. I don't remember exactly why the group wasn't optional or what it was we were studying, but I do know that in a subtle gesture of rebellion, I arrived wearing my pajamas. Around ten o'clock, the group disbanded, and I got into my car to drive home. I wasn't too familiar with Macon yet, and I vaguely remember turning one way or another on Mercer University Drive, looking forward to getting home and doing a little more studying from the comfort of my bed. After all, I was already in my pajamas. Following a white-knuckle drive through a scary part of town, I surfaced 25 minutes later in a deserted area near Lizella. I pulled over into a laundromat parking lot, and used my cell phone to call Jim. Mercifully, he concealed his disbelief that I was able to get so terribly lost coming home from school, especially since we lived less than ten minutes away. I turned out of the laundromat and provided him with the name of the nearest intersection I came to. He stayed with me on the phone, guiding me home through a series of easy to understand prompts like "turn left at the second traffic light" or  "keep going straight until you see a stop sign." It was after 11 pm when I finally pulled into our driveway.
     Of all the cities I've visited, maneuvering through Columbus, Ohio has proven to be the most onerous for me.  In October of 2004, I flew up from Atlanta for my Aunt Lynda's surprise 60th birthday party. I was staying with my sister, Emi, and her husband, Carl, at their house in Bexley, a suburban neighborhood within the greater Columbus area. This was the first time I'd visited them in their new Midwestern digs. On the day of Lynda's party, I'd decided to take a long walk. I must admit, I wasn't really paying attention to which way I was going. Unlike Atlanta, Bexley is a city with real street blocks, and I thought that if I kept turning right, I'd end up back at Emi and Carl's house. An hour later, the street had changed into a gravel road, running alongside some sort of highway. After observing that all the people and houses had been replaced by stray dogs and industrial buildings, I got the distinct impression that I was no longer anywhere near their neighborhood. Since it was getting late, and we were all riding to Lynda's party in Dayton together, I decided to call Carl for assistance. When he learned where I was, he almost dropped the phone. I had walked almost all the way to the Columbus airport, and as usual, I was on the wrong side of the tracks. A couple of years later, the boys and I drove up to spend Christmas in Columbus. We'd made really good time driving from Atlanta, and once we hit Cincinnati, all I could think about was the glass of Trader Joe's chardonnay I knew Emi would have waiting for me. I'd anticipated arriving at their house no later than 8:30 pm. As we approached Columbus, my Mapquest directions instructed me to merge briefly from I-71N to I-70E and then back onto I-71N before exiting in Bexley on Broad Street. I spent the next two hours, entangled in a Groundhog Day-like infinity loop, eternally condemned to a place of damnation known as Frank Road. I had no problem getting up to the I-71N/I-70E exchange, but I never could seem to get back on I-71N. Every route I tried eventually led me back to Frank Road, which I later learned is south of Columbus. It really started to feel as if someone was playing a cruel sisyphean joke on me. Rory got on the phone with Carl, who was audibly perplexed by the difficulty I was having; I could almost feel him and Emi rolling their eyes at each other, gesturing into the phone while silently laughing and whispering, "Dear God, Kris has done it again!" As Carl accessed the Columbus-Bexley area map on his computer, he cheerfully informed Rory that Frank Road was where the state prison was located. Great! We were nearly out of gas; how did Carl know that was exactly the kind of information I wanted to hear just then? Within twenty minutes, we were at Emi and Carl's doorstep. A couple of glasses of chardonnay later, the hideousness of the Frank Road fiasco began to dissipate, but my permanently scarred psyche could no longer ignore its keen awareness that for people like me, there is a Frank Road lurking at virtually every corner.
     Brad and I currently live downtown in the small city of Rome, GA. I drive about a mile to and from work, and back and forth to the grocery store. We can walk everywhere else. I'm ashamed to admit that I've gotten lost here plenty of times as well. Martha Berry Highway alternately morphs into Turner McCall Boulevard, East 2nd Avenue, and Shorter Avenue, and depending on which Martha Berry permutation you're traveling on, if you're not exercising extreme caution, you'll end up in Cedartown, Rockmart, Alabama, or Tennesee. I think I may be living proof of a missing link. My DNA seems to be suffering from a fatal frameshift mutation in the codon for human homing instincts; I just don't have the internal geomagnetic compass that other hominoids seem to possess. The fact that everyone else has a GPS now has enabled me to blend right in, making my disability a little less obvious. I'm thinking about planning another trip to Ohio soon, and I wonder how my GPS will handle the whole I-71N/I-70E/Frank Road problem. I think I'm gonna let Brad drive this time.

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