Turn right at the gas station

As I was driving home today, I passed a curve in the road where there's a wreck almost every time it rains. It made me think about the time an old lady in front of me lost control of her Blazer on that very turn, skidding across the road into the embankment before flipping over onto her roof. I immediately pulled over and rushed to help her out. As she was freeing herself from the seatbelt another truck came around the corner losing control in the exact same spot and started spinning wildly toward us. Fortunately, he didn't flip and was able to stop just short of crashing into the already-wrecked Blazer (with the lady still inside.)

I got on the phone with 911 trying to tell them where to send the police and they asked me what road I was on. It then dawned on me that even though this road was less than 2 miles from my house and I use it at least twice daily during my commutes that I didn't know it's official name. State Park Road? State Park Circle? Something like that. I just told her to "tell the Pelham police it's on the road to Oak Mountain under the interstate where there's ALWAYS a wreck when it rains. They'll know where I'm talking about." It was more than a little embarrassing and revealed what I consider to the only real chink in my navigational armor.

I take pride in my sense of direction. It's more than just a guy thing. It's a family thing. My dad has always had a sharp sense of direction and seemed to know where every obscure little road in Alabama went (or if he didn't know, he could figure it out using logic and his sense of direction so closely that you'd never know the difference.)

Even when we were off our home turf and traveling around the country he still seemed to have an uncanny ability to know exactly how to get somewhere, despite the fact that we'd never been there before. Naturally some of the credit has to go to the use of maps (a tool I learned to use so well that I went to the Science Bowl for it.) But there was more to it than that. It's a talent. A gift.

That gift coupled with years of taking various convoluted routes throughout Birmingham and other parts of Alabama has paid huge dividends for myself. I know (or can accurately guess) the path of almost every minor road in the southern Birmingham area - which is a handy trait if you're trying to avoid traffic jams or simply want to joyride. And the internal sense of direction is true to my lineage as well. Years of my own joyriding (and even playing hide/seek as a child with my brother in my dad's cavernous office) have helped sharpen that sense. On the very rare occasion when my internal compass has failed me (like one night in Orlando when I went joyriding and the massive Epcot golfball zipped by on the opposite side of the highway from what I was expecting . . . EEEK) it makes you realize just how lucky you are to have that ability - and how helpless people who don't have that trait must feel when traveling.

But back to my original point. The one weakness I DO have when it comes to navigation is my inability to remember names and numbers. I've never been strong in this regard, even outside of travel directions. I still can't associate the names with the faces of some of my co-workers (those whom I rarely interact with, but have worked with for years.) And I'm horrible with dates. Whenever my weaknesses in this area are exposed and it becomes a topic of conversation, it baffles a lot of people that I was a history major. Obviously, there's MUCH more to being a history major than simply knowing names and dates. But that's a topic for another post . . .

So despite the fact I routinely drive hundreds of roads in the Birmingham area, I honestly only know the names and/or numbers of a few dozen of them. I'm a great person to have along with you IN the car if you're lost. I'll get you there with ease. But I'm a horrible person to rely on when it comes to giving directions.

"Take I-65 north to the . . . ummm . . . second Homewood exit and turn right onto . . . . ummm . . . the road that goes past Rally's. Then you'll want to . . . ummmm . . . " (probably stop listening to me and ask someone else for help)


Adam said...

Well, the moment I turned 16, the roach was applying the sense of direction that I osmosed from Dad. There are only a handful of roads in the greater Birmingham area that myself and my excursioning compadres have not been down. At least 4 nights a week, we would pour ourselves into the roach with a bag of hot pork rinds, a bottle of coke, and a language that was foreign to anyone outside our inner circle. Eastside, Westside, Southside, Ensley, all the north Birmingham communities, Mt. Brook, Vestavia, all the Over The Mountain communities, even Chelsea and Montevallo. We were always lost but we really did learn how to bullshit our way to any destination. I miss those days.

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