Hello, my name is Laura and I give directions.
Everywhere I go, people ask me for directions. No matter where I am - my own town, someplace I've never been before, or even if I'm lost myself - people find me. This week I was wandering around a mall, trying to locate the exit nearest my car. (I have a great sense of direction outside, but inside buildings I wander hopelessly in circles.) A woman approached me with that oh-so-familiar look on her face... "Which way is The Bay?" I smiled to myself.
In New York, it was a rare subway trip that I wasn't approached. "Does this train go to Grand Central?" "How do I get to Columbus Circle?" It happened every time we visited Toronto; it happens every time I walk in Port Credit. It happens just as frequently when I travel. We were in San Francisco less than an hour when a car pulled up beside us, passenger window rolled down, inquiring face at the window. In Italy and France, Britain and Ireland, Mexico and Alaska, natives and tourists alike asked me the way. On a deserted highway in rural Mississippi, in a tiny village upstate New York, in the middle of rush hour Chicago. They pick me out of crowds, cross the street, flag me down. They want directions, and they want them from me.
You might think I'm exaggerating. You wouldn't if you spent time with me. My dear friend NN and I were doing errands on the Upper West Side when a woman stopped me: "Is there a crosstown bus on this street?" NN said, "I see you're still in demand." NN and I have traveled together. She knows.
I've thought a lot about why this happens. My first memory of being asked for directions might provide a clue. It was my freshman year of university, on the very first day of classes. I was dashing in between classes, wondering where I was and what I was doing, feeling very lost and a bit anxious.
A young woman tapped my arm: "How do you get to College Hall?" I burst out laughing. "I have no idea! I'm a freshman!" "Wow!" she said. "You really look like you know where you're going." Together, we held her little campus map and tried to determine our location. But it made my day. No, it made my week: hey, I look like I know where I'm going. I think I must appear to be some combination of non-threatening and approachable, yet alert and confident. That's my theory, anyway.
Giving directions is a responsibility I take very seriously. If I don't have the answer, I feel like I've let someone down. Even worse is the occasional realization that I've given someone wrong directions. I wait while people search for pens. If the person is interested, I'll give several alternatives. In New York, I could tailor my directions to their needs: Can you walk a long distance? Are you in a rush? Would you rather save the price of the subway, and see the city on foot? More than once, I've told tourists that we were headed in the same direction, and took them myself. (This is not so unusual in New York, as many tourists can attest.)
Because for many years I worked on weekends, I'd be on my way to work when the sidewalks were relatively empty but for tourists. So, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, between the subway and the office, I'd almost always be approached.
One time, as I stepped off the subway at Columbus Circle, a couple asked, "Is this where we catch the train to Yankee Stadium?" They were covered head-to-toe in blindingly white, brand-new Yankees gear. I answered, "Yes, but you need to be over there, on the uptown side." "No no no," they said, "it's downtown." I sighed. Tourists are arguing with me about the location of Yankee Stadium. I was sorely tempted to let them to take the downtown train. "Please. You must trust me on this. The Stadium is uptown." "No, no..." After I had convinced them and walked away, I realized that they were heading up to the Bronx a good four hours before anyone would be there for the game. Serves them right.
Now this same thing happens in Toronto. On my short walk from Union Station to the office on Sunday mornings, I direct at least two tourists, often more.
Only once was I ever tempted to purposely give wrong directions: when the Republican National Convention invaded New York City. Was ever a group of tourists more unwelcome, anywhere? They were coming to a city they would normally disdain, that they had no wish to explore, only to exploit the tragedy that we lived through. We detested their presence, and I had no intentions of helping them get anywhere. I pinned my anti-W button to my t-shirt, and it worked, like garlic for vampires.