“HEY YOU, CUTTING THE LAWN! CAN YOU GIVE ME DIRECTIONS TO THE GRAND CANYON?”
I think I’m the last person alive who asks for directions. It used to be such a common practice, but now if you pull up to the curb and roll down your window, someone will likely call the cops, especially if you’re driving a van.
Most people plug the street they’re looking for into Google Maps or Waze, and then Siri or a computerized personal assistant with a seductive voice will say, “OK! Let’s get started! Turn right on Kangaroo Court and in a half mile…”
Why ask directions from a pedestrian when a GPS can direct you there without a hassle … except when it leads you down a creepy dead-end and your hub caps get stolen while the car is still moving.
The problem with asking directions is that people want to be helpful even when they don’t know the answer, so they’ll make up something like:
“Ahhh … let me think a minute … ahhh. Take your second right and then your first left and go a few miles, maybe two or five, until you reach a small hill with a fork in the road at the light, and you take the left, but not the far left, the middle left, and you’ll pass a Mobil station, errrr a Sunoco station, and then …” All of which means to say you’ll be lost at the first bump in the road.
No one, except me and the great-, great-, great-grandson of Giovanni da Verrazzano, uses a paper map. I find them inspiring in a Lewis and Clark kind of way. A map is the equivalent of roughing it in 21st-Century America, like playing Survivor in the Okefenokee Swamp with only a compass, a plastic Bowie knife and a bottle of Pellegrino.
My problem is I never bothered to learn street names, so I couldn’t work for the Postal Service, the highway department, Avon or the Jehovah Witnesses.
One street I do recall, however, is Pisani Street, which I stumbled upon in the White Mountains. It was an unassuming road in the shadow of the Presidential Range. Which Pisani lived there, I wondered? My great-uncle Vespucci, the legendary moose hunter/grappa maker?
When we got married, my wife and I lived on Sodom Lane. I’m afraid of what was going on behind our neighbors’ closed doors. They should have named it “Sodom and Gomorrah Lane.”
In Pine Rock Park where I grew up, there were trails with Native American names like “Wopowog,” “Kanungum,” “Ojibwa” and “Shinnacock.” I still can’t pronounce the road we lived on. Imagine getting directions like “Take a left on Wopowog, and go right on Orowoc and right onto Oronoque and left onto Winibig and follow it to the end until you fall off the cliff into the Far Mill River.”
My wife gets annoyed because I don’t know the street names in town even though we’ve lived there 25 years.
“Grannis Road, you have to go down Grannis,” she’ll tell me.
“Which one is Grannis?”
There’s a tense silence and she’ll snarl, “Grannis is the road the elementary school is on, where our four daughters went, the road you’ve been driving on every day for the past 25 years.”
What’s the big deal? I don’t remember street names because I pay more attention to road hazards like joggers, baby strollers and potholes.
This presents a problem when I say, “Siri, take me to Big Y on the old Route 8.” Siri, it seems, wasn’t around when the old Route 8 was simply Route 8 before the new Route 8 was built, so Siri knows it as Bridgeport Avenue, except when Bridgeport Avenue is in Trumbull and becomes Shelton Road.
Or Siri might think I want to go to Route 8 in Massachusetts. Then, things get really crazy and before you know it, I arrive at Big Y in the Berkshires, and I’m so desperate that I open the window and yell to a kid, “HEY YOU, CUTTING THE LAWN! HOW DO I GET TO CONNECTICUT?” In no time at all, his mother calls the cops, which is a perfect solution to my problem.
“Officer, I seem to be lost.”
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.