I have no internal GPS. I’m man enough to admit it. In my defense, however, my tendency to get lost is nicely balanced out by some of my other stellar qualities: I can write with both hands at the same time – right-handed going forward and left-handed going backwards. I can turn my eyelids inside out and I can play Oh, Susanna on the harmonica! But, seriously, I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag if it was left wide open.
Some people just have a knack for knowing where they’re going, how to get there and how to get home again. They can navigate unfamiliar roads in unfamiliar places and never get lost. I lived in the same city for 30 years and still got lost all the time.
There were times when I’d be driving someplace that I had never been before and I would say to myself, “Self, concentrate on where you’re going this time!” I would try with all my might to recall each turn I had made. Invariably, when heading home, I would turn the wrong way right out of the gate, just because it ‘felt’ like the right direction. Bottom line? I’m not the guy you want as captain of your orienteering team.
My lack of spatial orientation doesn’t only affect me when I’m driving. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve parked my car in a crowded lot, gone into a store to get something, walked back outside and had no idea where my car was!
The other night my wife and I were watching an old Seinfeld rerun called The Parking Garage. It brought back some good memories, and by good, I mean mostly bad.
It was Valentine’s Day some years ago when we were still living in Wisconsin. I had booked a reservation at a swanky steakhouse in downtown Madison called Johnny Delmonico’s. This was to be no ordinary romantic dinner for two. It was the night I would present my wife with an upgrade to her original wedding ring.
I was 19 when I asked Lisa to marry me. I had bought her an engagement ring with a .19 carat diamond. Oh, you didn’t realize diamonds could be measured in hundredths of carats? Usually a jeweler will use a loupe to see the imperfections in a stone; my jeweler needed a magnifying lens just to see the stone. Cut me some slack; it was all I could afford at the time.
The weather was ominously frigid for mid-February, and we headed out in our finest steak-eating attire. I can still picture my wife’s black skirt with a slit that ran all the way up the side of her left leg and seasonally appropriate red top. I dropped her off at the front door of the restaurant, drove across the street and left the car in a five-story parking ramp.
We had a wonderful time. She knew she was getting a new diamond because she had helped pick it out. It was a beautiful Israeli stone that her jeweler had found for us. She just didn’t know when I was going to give it to her. So, over a glass of champagne, I took out the box and presented her with the new ring. The jeweler, out of respect for my previous effort, had taken the old .19 carat diamond and embedded it in the band of another ring he was making for her along with some other stones smaller than grains of sand.
After dinner I told her I’d run and get the car and pick her up at the door. She said she’d walk with me to get the car since it was just across the street. We left the restaurant and were hit with a needle-sharp blast of frigid air. The temperature was -2°. We put our heads down and hustled across the street and into the parking ramp. Immediately, I had the feeling that I often get when trying to navigate…I couldn’t remember where I parked the car!
We walked quickly up one floor. “I think it’s up here on the next level.” I said.
“I’m freezing!” she said as she followed me in high heels with the slit in her dress flapping in the wind.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just up ahead,” I said with little conviction. We rounded the next corner. No car. I took the key fob out of my pocket and started clicking the Lock button. I could actually hear the car beeping in the distance but I couldn’t tell if it was below us or above us!
Finally, she stopped and took her phone out of her purse. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m calling a cab!” she said.
“Calling a cab?” I said. “What good is that going to do?”
“The cab driver can drive us around the ramp until we find the car! At least we’ll be warm!” she said.
Ordinarily, I might have argued about this. Given the fact that my teeth were chattering so hard I could barely talk, I decided to go with the plan. Sure enough, within two minutes a cabbie pulled into the parking ramp and we hopped in the warm car. I tried to explain what had happened and that we just needed him to drive us around until we found our car. He started laughing, and off we went. We drove up two levels, over one section and down one level again with me hanging out the back window clicking the key fob. It took him all of 60 seconds to help us locate the car, and I gave him $20 for his effort.
Still a bit flustered, cold and disoriented, I pulled out of the parking ramp and immediately turned the wrong way down a one-way street.