On the one hand it’s a wonder we can find our way out of a cardboard box. On the other hand our navigational skills strangely complement each other so we get by, through or around most obstacles to our destinations.
Jimmy navigates by cities, towns, pubs (sadly few in the U.S.) landmarks and an innate sense of direction. The last being something that eludes me as I can get turned around in a gas station as though I have been spun blindfolded. I can, however, read a map, use a compass, orientate myself (most days) with directions given in north, south, east and west and navigate by route numbers and road names on a town plan. “Turn left here, take the second right, go half a mile and the campsite will be on your left.” And there it is.
“How do you do that?” Jimmy is convinced a type of sorcery is at work when I find my way around an unfamiliar town merely by consulting a map. But he is quicker to read and interpret road signs, judge appropriateness of road conditions and take decisions. “I’m not turning there!”
“But the map says . . . . oh, no, you don’t want to turn there.” I’ve directed him to turn, trailer in tow, into a junkyard, a muddy farm track, dead end streets, supermarket parking lots and non-existent roads.
So between us and with a big dollop of tolerance for each other’s foibles we have found our way throughout Europe and the U.S.
Navigating in the U.S. comes easy to me as the road system – interstates and in towns – makes sense to me. I know my east from my west even if do very occasionally fumble my left and my right. Odd numbers on roads generally indicate north and south and evens east and west. In town, if we’re at 4400 Main Street then 5400 Main is ten more blocks. If we’re just passing First Street then Sixth will be five blocks away. Watch out for those pesky Streets vs. Avenues! Fifth Street is an entirely different notion to Fifth Avenue. Add Fifth Street SW and Fifth Avenue NE to the mix and then you really have to think it through before striking out across town but it’s all logical if you’re paying attention.
The grid work of a town plan is a just mathematical puzzle – up two, across three and down one block and voilà, there is the restaurant. There must be a bit of spatial awareness attached to this thinking that Jimmy doesn’t apply to the problem. But truthfully, I think he just doesn’t try. He doesn’t have to. No more than I have to get out of the car when it is raining (and even when it isn’t) and pump gas. By and large the U.S. road system is instinctive to me. I grew up on it. I don’t have to figure it out. It just makes sense to me like speaking English makes sense. Lubbock, Texas is the exception to this where even the locals can’t give you directions.
Generally I can follow squiggly routes on the map and end up where I intended except when under pressure, especially time pressure calling for quick thinking and spot-on decision making. Those are the times I give Jimmy as much information as I can and then let him make the mistake, I mean decision. He seems to think I don’t know is not an acceptable answer when asking me which way do I go here? and insists I say something specific even if when I have no idea.
Perhaps the issue of blame is important when we are lost.
The road system in Europe still baffles me. Their ancient roads have evolved over centuries, not been planned and laid out coherently like in the United States. Modern motorway systems are logical to someone who likes numbers but cities are often rabbit warrens of narrow lanes. Many streets have origins long before America was a twinkle in C. Columbus’ eye. The Jewish Quarter in Cordoba is one of many places to get lost on claustrophobic winding streets that even a Mini Cooper couldn’t maneuver. And I can’t apply any logic to European country roads.
How we ever made our way through France to the south of Spain and back again – new to RVing – is beyond me.
We even got lost in the Channel Tunnel Terminal and ended up on an empty platform – our departure time imminent and no possibility of a U-turn with a 26 foot trailer behind us. After a panicked phone call a Terminal Land Rover took us on a tour of the platforms, up one and down another, to lead us onto our train.
Now wasn’t that an omen of things to come?