Walmart does not build their stores in the backwoods, hidden behind overgrown tree-lines. Walmart constructs their expansive collection of cheap goods right on the main roads and highways.
A Walmart is not hard to find.
And yet, I got lost on the way to Walmart to buy milk yesterday.
Let me set the stage.
It’s late afternoon in Franklin, Kentucky. The sun is low in the sky, the pending rainstorm is moving in from the southwest. I leave campus, turn left on to 100 (Scottsville Road), heading west I suppose. I know that the Franklin Walmart is south of me, on 31-W. I could take 100 to 31-W into town and then turn left. Or, I could take a shorter route that one of my colleagues showed me several months ago.
My stomach is rumbling. I’m anxious to get my groceries and get home. I get to the caution light, read the sign without recognition, hesitate for a moment, and turn left.
I drove for just a little bit on this curvy road and realized that I have never been on that road before.
The sign said it was 73. Every road here has its own number. It must also have a name, or several names, but there were not (are not) necessarily street signs, which wouldn’t matter much because I don’t know which streets connect to which or which way that they lead.
The road veers, not just curves, but veers, to the left, which turns out to be east and then sharply to the south. For a few moments, I drive parallel to the interstate. This is the direction I wanted to go, but I see the road will soon lead me over the interstate (I-65) and head off east again, going somewhere I didn’t want to go.
An older truck is following me, making me nervous. The driver is clearly familiar with this road, wants to drive faster, and wants me to make up my mind. I finally flip my signal light on, pull into a gravel driveway and let the traffic pass (the two vehicles who were behind me).
I back out of the gravel driveway, keeping on eye on the house farther up the drive, hoping they realize I merely need to turn around. Back over the interstate, I decide to try that other street I passed earlier, that seems to head south. I turn left onto an even more narrow road that bumps up and then suddenly drops. I am intrigued and slightly concerned. The road twists and turns and dips toward a concrete span across a creek (at least I think that is what that benign-looking body of water would be called).
But there is no way that I am driving across it. It has no side railings and I have little depth perception.
The road on the other side looks like it only leads to the processing plant for something, that it is a dead end. I checked my rear-view and snapped a picture. I then executed a 17-point turn in my car, careful not to back into the ditches along either side.
I finally get my car turned around and am now looking up a steep incline that would rival any mountain side hike. I think about taking a picture of this but panic when I realize a pick-up truck is coming behind me, making it over that clearly wide-enough concrete bridge.
I throw my car into drive, thankful I have good tires and a V-6 engine. I climb the hill, hug the edge of the road when I pass another car (where did all this traffic come from?). I follow the road back to 100, where I came from, feeling foolish, frustrated, and a little perturbed.
I just want to go to Walmart.
I head back down 100 and turn at the next street, the numbers and names of which are unknown to me. They don’t really matter. I recognize this road and follow its curves up and over to 31-W, still feeling stupid for assuming that a road will go where I think it should go.
I finally make it to Walmart – my adventures within are another blogpost.
This little escapade is representative of how I feel about driving in my new home. (I’m not sure how long I will still use the term “new” and tell people I have “recently” moved here. But I will continue to do so until I stop feeling like things are so new and unfamiliar).
I have no sense of direction here. There are no mountains to guide me, no grid of freeways to keep me on track. In Southern California, the mountains run east to west, anchoring the skyline. The freeways are laid out in a grid. When it says the 5 North, that freeway runs north. When it says 5 south, you can get on that side of the freeway to go south.
Here 31 W runs north and south. 31 E also runs north and south. They are merely west and east of each other and they turn and twist in their overall north/south directions.
In Southern California, the streams and rivers begin high up in the mountains (to the north) and move downward toward the oceans and beaches (which are generally in the west, a few face south).
Here I drive north on I-65 and cross over the Red River twice within a couple of miles. The rivers and streams wander around, meandering, in no hurry to get to the next body of water.
Well, someone said as I told them this story, you can remember that moss grows on the north side of trees. True, I responded, but here in the South, it is so damp that moss might grow on any or all sides of a tree.
Even if I could figure out the direction I am facing, it would do me no good. The roads don’t act like I think they should. I can’t figure them out.
Print out a map, you say. That is an excellent suggestion! I print out the maps, with street names and numbers on it. I travel along on the physical road. But the street signs are not well or frequently placed. The numerical signs with their little arrows point vaguely in directions where there may or may not be a corresponding road; these little signs are a mathematical riddle that only the natives can unravel.
You might say that I could use that fancy new smartphone and look up my location on the GPS. I could. I should have. But my faith in that was undermined when it couldn’t help me find the rental car office in Southern California, where the roads are supposedly more clearly marked (they were) and easier to follow (but not in a hilly area unfamiliar to me). There is also the issue of pulling off to the side to use said technological device. There are no shoulders on most small-town roads. There are drainage ditches. I could pull up in someone’s driveway, but I’m wary of sitting there for more than the two seconds it takes to throw the car into reverse.
Even though I know I will get lost, I will still try to go to new places. It’s just frustrating when I am driving to a familiar place and still get turned around.
When feasible, I ask someone who has been there to describe the route to me, the destination, what’s nearby, what to look for, what to avoid. I look up a picture of the destination, if possible. On a map, I study the roads, the crossroads, the topography. I imprint the images in my mind, which I can visualize as I drive.
This does help, but who knew I should do that before going to pick up milk?
Lest this sound like a diatribe against my new home, please know that I also got lost quickly in Southern California when I drove to unfamiliar areas. Even with street signs clearly and frequently placed, I don’t see them well enough to read them until I am passing them. So there, too, I would turn around a lot when going to a new place.
Does any one else struggle to drive to new places? Or get a little frustrated when taking what you think is a short-cut? Any one else directionally-challenged?