A Wandering Columnist, I
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be living in a metropolitan area with a public transportation system as good as Boston’s, because without it, my horrendous sense of direction and I would have me wandering around Memphis long before I’d find room 7-107 or whatever. That’s Memphis, Tennessee if I bite the bullet and ask for directions and historical downtown Memphis, Egypt, otherwise. Don’t ask me how; I guarantee I’d manage it, one way or another.
It’s the same thing even in a space as small as my own room. It’s a frustratingly surreal experience to have an object in my hand one moment and see no sign of it the next. Either my absentmindedness is such that I should be inventing Flubber any day now, or I’ve developed (but have yet to master) the ability to teleport objects miles away. If the latter is the case, I really hope I figure it out soon. It’d be nice to teleport away some of these rain clouds and send them to, oh, I dunno… Caltech.
I haven’t the faintest idea of why my sense of direction is so bad. I was in the Boy Scouts as a kid and took orienteering, but I still need a compass on my belt so I don’t have to use the sun to relate my MapQuest printout to the Boston topography.
A friend of mine has such an absurdly keen sense of direction that she can wander the tunnels for hours and know at any moment where she is, what direction she’s facing, and in all likelihood, the precise distance between her and Christian Bale. On the other hand, you have me who, after three semesters at MIT, only just figured out a couple weeks ago that the “outbound” Red Line went out of Boston and the “inbound” Red Line went into Boston. It doesn’t seem fair.
Still, I not-so-humbly confess that, like Mr. Magoo, I do have my occasional moments of glory. Just the other night, a group of friends and I were prowling through Harvard Square, which you’d think would be familiar ground by now, looking for the Brattle Theatre. Not having known me for very long, my friends tacitly let me take the lead. A short time later, they revoked that privilege, and the four of us proceeded to ask directions about every 100 feet in a sad, strange little game of “Hot or Cold.” Long story short, it turned out that the giant “CINEMA” sign, which I happened to glance in an alleyway on our second lap around the block, was our destination. Thankfully enough, we backtracked there just in time for everyone to get tickets to Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night and for me to feel smug for about two hours. Then I headed for the wrong EXIT sign on the way out. Occasional, tragically brief moments of glory.
Those of you out there with the navigational knowledge of Magellan to whom carrier pigeons come for directions, my sextant and I (it’s not what it sounds like) envy you. I’m sure it must be very liberating, never having to use whereis.mit.edu and knowing by pure instinct how to get from one end of campus to another without ever touching earth or seeing sky.
Meanwhile, my Columbus-level incompetence and I remain utterly oblivious to the foibles of a city where one wrong turn can have you across two state lines before you can say “In-two-hundred-feet, keep-right.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a quick look on Google Earth before my laptop battery dies on me. I was approaching what looked like the Stata Center from a long way away, but, as I get closer to it, I grow increasingly uncomfortable at how Taj Mahal-shaped it is.