Why do I always get lost? I always get cold and clammy any time I see a “Detour” sign, which is ironic since my first novel is called Detours, but that is a metaphor while real detours just freak me out. I guess it’s because I usually only know one way to get anywhere, so when that way is taken away from me I cease to function as well. When I first moved to upstate New York it seemed like I was getting lost every single day, and getting lost here means going deep into cow country and not being able to find a road that leads out of it.
Once, a couple of summers ago, I was in Rome (Rome, NY, people) for a get-together with some teacher colleagues. I had never been in Rome by myself before, but I thought I knew the way back to route 69 that would take me back in the direction of home. The problem was that I ended up on the wrong street and I assumed it was parallel to the route I wanted. But it wasn’t. I kept driving anyway. I figured I would eventually run into an area that I was familiar with, and of course the longer I kept going straight the more likely that wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t going back, though, because that would admit I was so far off the path, so I kept driving.
The later it got, when the shadows began taking over the road in front of me and I had to turn on my headlights, the more I began to worry. When I finally passed a sign for “Ava,” which is an hour away from where I wanted to be, I finally realized it was time to suck it up and admit that I was hopelessly lost. So I stopped the car by the side of the road (I still wasn’t turning around) and I did what I usually do when faced with a dilemma. I called my wife. She directed me to a road I would have missed otherwise, and within minutes I was back on familiar ground. I guess that’s what comes from actually being from around here.
Then there was the time I got lost heading to the prison (oh, whoops, the correctional facility). I was on my way there to interview for a job, and knowing my limitations, I had my wife map out the journey there for me. Literally, there was a crude map she had drawn sitting on the seat beside me, and she had walked me through it beforehand, but again this was when I first moved up here, and everything looked the same. The bridge that crosses Marcy could have been any bridge to me, and in fact I passed by the actual bridge without even realizing it was a bridge. Oops.
Needless to say I took the scenic route to the prison, and when I called my wife to clarify exactly where I had missed a turn she was in a meeting so I had to sit there and wait. It was early in the morning, too, and the part of town I was in wasn’t exactly the “gettin’ up early” part of town, so I was the only person in probably a three-mile radius who was actually out on the street. It was eerie. I almost felt like I was in a ghost town, and I was happy when my phone rang 10 minutes later. Turns out I was two streets over from the one I needed to get to the prison. I made it just in time. Thank god I left the house well before I needed to.
That’s how I learn, though, by trial and error. It’s always been that way. Sometimes places will look familiar, but more often than not everything looks strange, so I usually just keep driving. That’s how I have found myself miles away from where I needed to be at times, and sometimes it’s in a dead zone (where I couldn’t even get cell service) so I’ve had to drive until I get out of that zone. I’ll admit I’ve run into some interesting sites and odd-looking folks that way, and even had a gas attendant laugh at me while actual tumbleweeds blew past once. Talk about surreal. But sooner or later I make my way to where I need to be.
Which is the whole point after all, right? So what if I take the roundabout route to get there.