Saturday, January 27, 2007

directionless in seattle

I have virtually no sense of direction. I have to concentrate very hard to remember which way is North (or whatever), even if I'm driving on Interstate 5, which runs straight North-South from British Columbia to Mexico (let's see, Hawaii is on my *left*, and Boston is on my *right*, so if I turn right, Mexico will then be on my right...)
If I walk into a building, as soon as I make one turn (or step into an elevator), I can no longer tell you the direction of the door where I entered. I would make a terrible secret agent.

Which brings me to my peeve, which is that people don't seem to know how to *give* directions either. Maybe there's some secret code or universal understanding between direction-enabled people, and it just seems confusing to me because I'm direction-retarded. But in my experience, the conversation goes something like the following about 75% of the time:

Bryan: Hi, could you give me directions to your hotel?
Hotel Person: Sure, where are you now?
Bryan: Looks like I'm on Sandalwood Boulevard.
HP: Okay, well, just continue down Sandalwood until you see Berry Street...

And I'm lost and frustrated already. How does this person know where I am on Sandalwood? Which direction am I supposed to drive in?

Sometimes I'll say "I'm at 5th and Pine streets" and the person will then say "Okay, turn left on Pine" without asking me which direction I'm facing, or even if I might be on Pine street already. It's like they assigned me a direction and location in their mind by ESP.

Or sometimes I'll ask "How far until the turn onto McKnight?" and the person will answer something like "Oh, I don't know -- it's a ways, but not too far."

All of this is very confusing and frustrating for the directionally-challenged. I think people giving directions should be required to give at a minimum all the following information for each step of directions they give you:
1) street name
2) distance to street
3) landmark
4) signal type
5) direction (North, South, etc)
6) change in direction relative to current direction (left, right, U-turn)
7) name of hotel where you stay if you decide to just give up on the whole thing and spend the night right where you are.

Or I guess I could just get a GPS, but that might take all the fun out of it...


At Sat Jan 27, 11:34:00 PM PST, Blogger mamacita said...

Good post! I have a brother and a daughter who seem to have this same proble. But they're awesome people.

At Sat Jan 27, 11:36:00 PM PST, Blogger mamacita said...

I didn't mean proble. I meant problem.

At Sat Jan 27, 11:39:00 PM PST, Blogger dkgoodman said...

I have an excellent sense of direction and I hate the way people give directions. Someone will tell me, "Turn left on Main" and I immediately translate that to "Turn North on Main" (or whichever direction it is). That way, when I get to the right corner, I know which direction to turn, no matter how I got there.

I used to do field service (first for video games and later computer systems), and I would never let people give me directions to their establishment. They were invariably wrong. I used the Thomas Brothers maps instead. It saved time listening to the directions, and saved time because I went the right way. People give terrible directions.

There's one more indispensible item of information to add to your list: 3.5) the oops landmark. It's nice to know that if you reach the oops landmark, you went too far. "Go two miles to Main St, there'll be a Starbucks there (yeah, that helps). If you pass a McDonalds, you went too far."

GPS rocks. :)

At Sat Jan 27, 11:40:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

Auuughh! I couldn't identify more with this post. Not so surprising, given that we used the same gene-suppliers. I have had exactly that conversation with myself about the ocean and Mexico... :) Wow, you aticulated exactly the things that are difficult to take from direction-givers. Argh! Yes! They say, "Well, from Broadway you'll want to get on Sycamore, and then....." What??!? Wait! Which WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY??? ON? THOSE? STREETS? One thing I like about my family and most of my friends is that they have figured out that I really do need VERY detailed directions (which I will need to write down) and that I will not remember those same directions next week. And they do not make fun of me for it. Probably because they don't like to see me cry anymore than they have to. Because it is very frustrating not to have a sense of direction. By the way, did you know they call this "topographical agnosia"? :) One time when I was driving in downtown Chico, when I was about 16, I think, I actually could not find Chico State. Not kidding. Sigh.....

At Sun Jan 28, 07:26:00 AM PST, Blogger Lisa said...

Well, I USED to be very good at directions...and THEN I got GPS. Now I don't pay attention and if my GPS lets me down, I'm up a creek. So, as much as I love GPS, you can really get lost if it lets you down as well!

At Sun Jan 28, 11:31:00 AM PST, Blogger si said...

(i'm going to make this about me, okay?) EXCUSE ME, but i give you very good directions -- when you CHOOSE to have them with you (most of the time you ignore me [sigh]). and i can even give them to you on-the-fly (because you've not printed my detailed directions out). so, i guess i'm your personal GPS when you're in town. oh wait, i guess it doesn't matter any more since you won't be in our town any time soon -- tho apparently you will be in other CA cities, just not ours! hmmph! :)

actually, i'm bad at directions myself when i'm not familiar with the area. N/S/W/E -- doesn't mean a whole lot to me unless the sun is rising or setting and then i can maybe make an educated guess. so even tho i give you a bad time about your sense of direction, i'm right there with you.

At Sun Jan 28, 11:35:00 AM PST, Blogger si said...

...right there with you -- LOST!

At Sun Jan 28, 12:12:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

mamacita, i'll take your word for it that your relatives are nice people.
dkg: *excellent* post about the "oops landmark".
roxy, glad we can feel each other's pain. not that it gets us anywhere we want to go...
lisa, i have actually worried that a GPS would cause the miniscule direction-sense I do have to completely atrophy. thx, now i have another thing to worry about.
and finally, let it hereby be acknowledged and pronounced that Si consistently gives the best directions i have ever received, sometimes numerous times for the same destination, sometimes over the phone after having already emailed me the same directions the night before which i neglected to pick up off the printer and take with me.
one final comment/acknowledgement:
you know how men don't like to ask for directions? I have seldom been able to indulge myself in that luxury of charging-ahead-with-no-directions; luckily, for 15+ yrs I usually didnt' have to, since Hannah was excellent with directions.

At Sun Jan 28, 12:21:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

oh, and i just remembered:
there *is* a typically-male behaviour i *am* guilty of quite often:
when I take a wrong turn, i don't like to make a U-turn and go back to my last known correct location.
the reasoning is something like this:
if i turn back, i know i've lost (both the time, and in the contest to drive correctly to the destination); if i continue on, and somehow find a way back to where i'm going, i might still be able to pull a "win" out of it.
so if i make a mistake, rather than turn around i'll drive straight ahead thinking something like "well, maybe if i just drive straight here, i can cut thru Compton and Inglewood and then swing back around and eventually end up on Rodeo Drive again..."

At Sun Jan 28, 08:58:00 PM PST, Blogger Kylee said...

You know...unless it is to my house...I might know exactly how to get someplace but I can not give directions. I just get there. Usually I don't know the street names or how many lights, exactly what street to turn on, I just get there. For along time I did now even know the name of the exit I took off of I-5 to get to my house because it was not the obvious one.

I know exactly how to get to my house and give directions to that, but even then I have had people get lost and it is really easy.

Giving directions is hard - just think about how it is when people try to tell you what they want in a project or if you have to give help someone with training or learning a new program to them. You have to ask tons of questions before you interpret it like they mean it, or explain something a dozen different ways for them to understand. I think it’s the same with directions. When you know what you want or how to do something you leave things out because it is something you do without even thinking about it.

MapQuest works pretty well but even that sucks sometimes at directions…what do you expect it’s a program written by humans….GPS time my ex’s GPS had us going around the block trying to get out of downtown Houston….finally he listened to me when I told him to go right instead of following the GPS directions to go left once again for another trip around the block.

At Sun Jan 28, 09:51:00 PM PST, Blogger dkgoodman said...

"It's not the journey, it's the destination."

Oftentimes, when I'm not on a schedule, I don't like specific instructions, or knowing precisely how to get where I'm going. Often I like to "drive by Braille", simply meandering until I find my destination. I discover so much more that way. :)

At Sun Jan 28, 10:24:00 PM PST, Blogger si said...

dkgoodman: thot "driving by braille" was inadvertently (or maybe advertently) driving on the raised bumps/reflectors on the freeway... :)

At Mon Jan 29, 12:01:00 PM PST, Blogger dkgoodman said...

Si: Well, it originally was, but I've extended it to include the situation where you drive around until things "feel" right. It's driving from your gut more than your head. :)

(No offense to blind drivers intended.)

At Wed Jan 31, 08:54:00 PM PST, Blogger Alan said...

King county is on a grid. The address alone tells you the nearest intersection and approximately how far the location is from it. I explained the system to the princess who eventually gave a report on it to her high school classmates. Everyone was totally amazed how it worked.

Granted, the named streets can throw a wrench into the system.


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