On the road this summer, with my iPhone cheerily crooning out Google Map directions (“In 200 metres, turn left,” says Siri), life is a bowl of cherries.
Not so, years ago, when my daughters and I packed up our VW van and headed out on the road, often to swim meets or soccer games in the Lower Mainland and beyond. Oftentimes I’d rely on a directional hunch to get us to our campground: employing a sort of “intuitive sense of direction.”
To be honest, this isn’t recommended. In fact, the Lower Mainland completely confounded me and I’d find myself zooming down a highway north when I needed to go south, or herded by traffic across a soaring bridge – destination unknown. On those occasions my daughters learned a few choice words.
Once we set out to a swim meet in Port Coquitlam, eight-year-old Danica in the passenger seat clutching a convoluted list of highway names and numbers and exits and lane changes. The drive involved close to three hours of traffic jams and highway construction and, yes, a few wrong turns.
Asking for directions seemed counterintuitive to my intuitive sense of direction, but finally, thoroughly lost, I pulled off the highway and we marched into a convenience store. The woman behind the counter knew exactly where we needed to go and explained everything with a rapid-fire confidence. She was terribly helpful, but as we climbed back into the van, I looked at Danica and asked, “Did you get that?”
She shook her head, sadly, and said, “Do you think it was Chinese or Japanese?”
But no matter how bad Vancouver might be, I can’t stress how confusing the north/south, street/avenues numbered grid system is in Calgary. And just when you think you have it figured out, there you are hurtling down an eight-lane freeway, with traffic merging from both sides, realizing you are driving to Edmonton, when actually you were aiming for downtown Calgary. In the three years I lived there, I discovered the joy of leaving the car behind and walking.
So it was with great trepidation that I watched my youngest daughter and her friend fulfill, at age 18, a “lifelong” (ha) dream to do a road trip to California upon graduation.
They planned to go for a month, no particular destination, living out of the back of the car. The friend’s mom and I had MANY objections to this plan, the foremost being our certainty that gun-toting serial killers hung out at most roadside stops in the U.S. (we’re big fans of true crime fiction), and that these two young women (who couldn’t hold onto a pair of socks without losing them) could meet any number of ill adventures.
“But you’ll get lost!” I implored, thinking of all my driving disasters.
“How can we get lost,” answered Sierra calmly, “when we don’t know where we’re going?”
That stumped me a bit. So I bought them a GPS, which they named Floyd, and off they went. Luckily, we didn’t hear about most of their adventures until they returned home, but Floyd didn’t work very well, and there were familiar-to-me stories of merging the wrong way on a one-way road and arriving at a few unplanned destinations. However, mostly, it seemed they suffered from “intuitive parking.”
Eager to pick up two friends, who were flying into LAX, they managed to find short-term parking, make their way to international arrivals and even find their friend. What they neglected to do was note where they left the car. Faced with seven different, multi-levelled parkades — let’s just say it took them several hours to find the car.
Fast forward to this summer and we’re all driving with confidence, ready to take on the most complicated directions with Siri’s soothing voice. But wait … I can almost hear Sierra’s voice, “Where did I put my iPhone?”
Susan Lundy is the editor of Boulevard and Tweed magazines.