Lost in New York (But Pretending Like I'm Not)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I had a friend in DC (I still have her, but neither of us lives there anymore) whose apartment was just off of Dupont Circle. For some inexplicable reason, I could never remember the proper route to her place, despite having been there dozens of times. Upon every visit, I'd get off the Metro & call her to ask, "How do I get to your apartment again?"

I have a terrible sense of direction. Like... I am not exaggerating at all. One of my best friends once told me I must lack testosterone, the hormone that enhances directional capabilities; a therapist once told me my directional inabilities were related to ADD that no one else has ever told me I have.

All of this to say that even though New York City is on a grid, I have some trouble there. A lot of trouble there, actually. Uptown, downtown, crosstown - none of it sticks with me. Despite having been to my organization's flagship office multiple times in the five years I've worked there, I have zero idea how to navigate to it from Grand Central, which is two blocks away. I do not comprehend north or south or toward the setting sun or on the sunny side of the street. I comprehend landmarks, sort of, but barely.

But when I'm in New York, I look, for the most part, as though I know what I'm doing. Why? I like to think it's because I move correctly. If you look closely, you'll see me scanning street signs & subway maps on the go, trying to be inconspicuous about craning my neck to look at the lighted indicators on each train to figure out how far I am from my stop. If I'm truly lost (which is often), I park myself in an untrafficked corner to get my bearings; I never, ever stop in the way of others who know where they're going.

That's the key to being a pedestrian in cities, I think, no matter which one: Keep up pace. If you can't orient yourself in the time that you're going with the flow, pull over & give it some extra time - but not at the expense of all the other busy, fast-moving people who have their marching orders. (So many bad cliches made their way into that sentence, & I'm not even changing it because they make total sense.)

You already know I'm a big proponent of asking people for directions, especially in NYC. Last Wednesday, for example, I went the wrong way out of the apartment where I was staying, & I didn't notice for about six blocks, by which time I was so turned around I couldn't have told you my own name. A girl my age pointed me in the right direction and complimented my dress. Always better to ask for directions than to wander aimlessly - and definitely better to ask for directions than to stand in the middle of the sidewalk with your whole family & an open map. (The next day, I got stuck behind a girl who was reapplying makeup as she walked, which is, needless to say, another perfect example of exactly what you should not do on a busy city street.)

I think the biggest compliment - one that says to me, "You look like you know where you're going! You must be from here!" - is, ironically, when people stop me to ask me for directions while I'm in the city. Of course, I can't actually help them, but the question serves as reassurance: You're doing this city the right way, kid.

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