In my ideal life, I live in a city like New York or London that has such wonderful public transit that I would never even dream of owning a car because it would be more of a burden than a help. While Seattle has a pretty decent bus system, I will say that I’m grateful that I have my car out here for those ever-so-difficult-to-get-to places that I find myself going. My car tends to get me places faster and allows me access to places like the airport or Costco. Besides when I stop at the latter, I tend to utilize the entire rest of the car with my purchases of bulk toilet paper, salsa, and cheese (not necessarily to be utilized in the same sitting).
It’s also nice to have easy access to leave town and escape the city for a while. I breathed a sigh of relief when, after a month of waiting after shipping my car out to Seattle, it finally arrived in July. The driver made me sign off on the paperwork and handed me the keys to my freedom. I could now travel anywhere I wanted, able to fully carry on doing whatever the hell pleased me whenever suited me best. I quickly discovered that freedom came at a price.
I am directionally challenged no matter where I’m at in the world. Learning how to navigate the streets of Seattle without the GPS in my phone was out of the question. I quickly hit the road. One of my first trips was dropping off a friend of mine who lives in a town called North Bend. “Easy enough,” I thought, when I dropped her off at her house. I figured this wasn’t so bad after all. My Indianapolis traffic road rage might just disappear in a city that is as easy to navigate as this.
As I drove home, the GPS rerouted me. I wasn’t sure it was the right way to go and was positive it wasn’t the way I came in, but wasn’t my phone smarter than I was about maps at this point? Who was I to doubt its supreme intelligence? Sure, Siri still makes me cringe every time she pronounces “pizza” wrong, but wasn’t the fact that I am better with words and she’s better with directions what made us such a dynamite duo? So I took the exit she told me like an obedient student and realized I was alone and had no clue where I was, solely dependent on my cell phone to navigate me home.
After it took me through a toll bridge and into the depths of one of the worst traffic jams I’ve experienced, I was beside myself with rage. I felt the adrenaline course through my body as I invented new curse words I didn’t know existed to my fellow drivers who clearly didn’t understand the rules of the road. The good news is people are so passive here, me yelling until the veins pop out of my neck doesn’t illicit a violent response as much as it just makes someone look the other direction and ignore me.
It took me two hours to make the 30 minute drive home, and I cursed the whole process as I tried to parallel park on my street, which clearly should be designated a one way, but has parking on both sides and seemingly has no rules as to who can go down which way at any given time. After three failed attempts in the narrow street with my appallingly bad parallel parking skills, which are a little rusty seeing as I haven’t utilized that skill since I was 16 to pass a driving test, I parked at a spot a few blocks away I could just pull into.
The lack of driving rules leave me in a stupor on a daily basis. A few blocks away from me is an intersection that has no stop signs, so everyone has the right of way. It is as if, someone, in creating the Seattle streets, spaced putting up street signs and basically said, “Screw it! They’ll figure it out!” When I first moved here, someone described the roads to me as if whoever designed the Seattle roads was on acid, throwing spaghetti at a wall and imagining it as a map. I laughed at the time, but the more I drive here, the more I’m convinced that the joke was on me.
Google maps is my most valuable asset on any given day, and because I use it as such a crutch, I wonder if I could actually function as a human being and finagle my way from A to B without it. I dropped my phone the other day and screamed. The panic I felt in that millisecond before I flipped my phone over was real. What if it was broken? How would I even know how to find my way to the nearest store to buy a new phone? Being directionally challenged comes at a price, and even though my phone was fine, I’ve been known to accidentally drop it in a toilet from time to time, so it’s essentially a countdown to when I lose my lifeline to a tragic freak accident.
While I hate the thought of being that dependent on technology, it definitely isn’t foolproof. I deal with my fair share of problems from it being faulty or inaccurate. And I use it for a lot more than just driving. I looked at a map the other night with a group of people trying to find my way to a bar called the Stumbling Monk, which clearly was not in the isolated parking lot between the Goodwill and the restaurant my map said it would be.
“Well it should be here,” I said, as if speaking those words out loud would be the magic words that revealed the doors to a secret bar none of us could see. These people clearly didn’t know me well enough if they put me in charge of directions in the first place. I saw colored lights flashing inside of an open door in the distance.
“That looks like it must be something! Let me go check it out.”
As I walked in, there was a guy guarding the door with a list. I didn’t believe a place called the Stumbling Monk was classy enough to involve my name being on a list, which should have been my first hint, but it didn’t stop me from marching straight up there anyways. After all, the other life skill I’ve picked up is asking for directions. I asked him if this was the Stumbling Monk, and he looked at me like I had clearly escaped the mental institution. He said, “Yea, this is a wedding.” I looked into the room and saw a bride and groom busting a move on the dance floor surrounded by their nearest and dearest.
I immediately wondered why he hadn’t questioned why I was wearing jeans to a wedding, but then I remembered I was in Seattle, and people tend to be more chill about the dress codes of events out here. I sheepishly asked him if he could point me in the direction of the bar I was looking for and walked out the door.
It’s trial and error like anything else though. In a city with crazy streets and ever-changing names (the karaoke bar I wrote about called Nacho Borracho, for instance, is now called Neon Taco), I wonder if I’ll be able to keep up with it all. But I take it all in stride and learn what I can, even if it is only one street at a time.