I wish I had a hidden video camera filming me while I drive my car because the utter confusion and exasperation I feel when I’m driving around the streets of Pittsburgh would make a really funny YouTube video.
I’m a pretty good driver who has a terrible sense of direction in new places. Not exactly an ideal combination. And unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to drive around the city of Pittsburgh very often throughout my life. Everything I needed was already within the two-mile radius of my house in the suburbs. So imagine my anxiety when every other week or so I have the fabulous opportunity to drive someplace that I’ve never been.
I think that some cosmic force has decided that I really must get lost every time I go someplace new. No matter how many directions I print out or how well I’ve memorized Mapquest or how accurate my GPS is. I have never gotten somewhere without driving the wrong way or completely missing it first.
Driving in Pittsburgh is terrifying for someone who doesn’t do it often. There are one-way streets and ramps and exits everywhere. A ramp that looks like it will take you where you want to go actually veers off and goes over and under and around and pretty soon you’re not even in the city anymore. If you go across a river, it takes awhile to find a way back across. If you go through a tunnel, forget it.
So I have a very strict routine that I keep when driving to and through the unknown. I meticulously write down the address on at least two post-it notes. I type the address into a notes app on my phone. I search for the destination on MapQuest and when I print out step-by-step directions (with helpful hints), I make sure to enlarge the font so that if I’m driving and have to read the paper, it’ll be easier to see. I calculate the time it will take me to get to the destination, add fifteen minutes for traffic, five minutes for parking and ten minutes for wrong turns, to determine what time I’ll have to leave my house. And this is all the day (sometimes the week) before the “trip.”
I might sound like I’ve never driven anywhere in my life, but as I have found out, all of this preparation is apparently necessary. Because as soon as I start driving, nothing goes according to plan. The MapQuest directions look easy, the total time it should take isn’t long, I know the general direction–I think. And then come the winding ramps and streets of Pittsburgh. How are 376, 279 and 576 all the same road? And why did MapQuest tell me 376 but the GPS voice (whom I’ve named Ginny, trying to build a relationship with a piece of technology so she doesn’t take her wrath out on me) tells me its 576? When I’m completely positive that my car is positioned under the correct sign for the correct exit, then suddenly Ginny calls out–“Recalculating.” How?!
You know that extra gravelly space to the side of the exit that was made for people who decide to turn at the last possible second? Yes, I use that. Suddenly realizing I should be turning, or taking that exit, not the next one, I wrench the wheel across that extra space. Watch out for people like me.
As soon as I relax because I made that exit, Ginny lets me know that the next exit is on the left and I have approximately two seconds to cross over three lanes of traffic before the ramp takes me across a river where I do not want to go. I merge into traffic, make the next exit and again relax a little. I have two minutes until I reach my destination.
Driving along, driving along. “Your destination is on the right.” Emphasis on the words “on” and “right.” (I wonder what nationality Ginny is…) And I drive along, cursing, talking aloud, like what? where? I don’t see it! And I quickly drive right by, saying “oh there it went.” Then I have to find a place to turn around, make a U-turn, do whatever I have to do to go back, and find some place to park. Parking is not fun either. A car is a very big thing to find a spot for and if there is nowhere to put it, what do you do?
That’s just half my battle. I haven’t even started home yet. Getting home is even better because as meticulous as I was making sure I had directions to get to my destination, I didn’t print out any to get home. So I must rely on Ginny, who firmly decides not to have a signal. So I drive, make a turn, this road looks familiar. Oh wait, this ramp is actually taking me the wrong way. And suddenly I’m going across a bridge, towards a tunnel that is definitely in the wrong direction.
By the time Ginny finds out where she is in the world, I have driven around and through the whole city of Pittsburgh and must now untangle myself from the one-way streets.
Ginny always gets me home though. And every time I go to the same place, it gets a little easier. Maybe someday I’ll be able to navigate the Burgh but right now I’m struggling. And if I had a video camera in the car with me, it would be hilarious. After I get where I’m going.
photo credit: http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/11/fcc-approves-lightsquared-frequencies-gps-now-in-danger/