Another disadvantage of being almost 50 was recently brought home to me. Along with muscle tone and the ability to drink until 4:00 a.m. and still get up for work, it would appear certain driving skills also diminish with age. I’m still a good driver, but for a couple of years now finding my way from point A to B without incident has been getting more difficult. Since I’m planning a life of travel after retirement, this is worrisome. How can I expect to hike from Dublin to Dingle if I can’t find my way to a city an hour away from my house?
I get incredibly stressed when driving to new places now. The smallest conversation with anyone in the car at the exact wrong time can distract me enough to miss my exit. Then I freak out because I don’t know how to get back to where I was going. So this year I purchased a GPS to put an end to the problem. Suffice to say, it hasn’t been the godsend I expected it to be.
You know those stories you read about people who died because they trustingly followed their GPS until they were stuck in the middle of nowhere? It’s not as bizarre a turn of events as one would suppose. I took my daughter, Madeline, to the open house at Waterloo University this past weekend, which is about an hour and twenty minutes west of Oakville. I didn’t start the GPS right away because I figured I wouldn’t need it until I got near Waterloo. Actually, I got lost before I even left town.
Madeline’s first tour was scheduled for 12:30 p.m., so we left at 10:00 a.m. – estimated ETA, 11:30. Driving up a main Oakville artery, I saw the 401 East exit and passed it, watching expectantly for the 401 West sign to make an appearance, which should have occurred within the next 30 seconds. I saw nothing. After driving for almost 2 kilometers I realized I was in cow country. After another half kilometer of growing unease, I pulled into a car lot to ask for directions and was told the 401 West exit was 2 kilometers behind me. So back we went and there was the 401 West exit, clear as day. I have no idea how I missed the sign on the other side of the road but I’m going with “it was blocked by some construction signs that distracted me.”
Finally on our way after our 20 minute detour, I was fine until we got to Waterloo (after the 401 snafu I had turned the GPS on). However, there is a point, after GPS gal tells you to “take exit 8”, where the road splits and #8 continues to the right, and the signs indicate that the left lane is for “King Street downtown.” It was at this juncture that the GPS barked, “stay left on Highway 8.” I panicked as I watched the signs approaching, clearly stating #8 was on the right, going 110 clicks and running out of time to make a decision. I finally decided to believe that the “8” was correct but the “left” was wrong and took the #8 exit. Before I was halfway through the ramp curve, GPS lady said “recalculating…” Therein followed ten minutes of continuous direction that had me turning left and right on numerous narrow, 60 year old side streets until we met up with…King Street. Headed downtown. I drove down King, profoundly wishing it was possible to strangle an inanimate object.
The GPS did manage to get us to the university, where its usefulness ended for the time being. I then discovered that manmade signs are no less fallible than the GPS programming. There was a huge, mostly empty parking lot to the left, but signs saying “event parking” to the right. After following the signs to the right we drove through campus only to find ourselves in (1) a permit only parking lot, (2) a dead end construction road and (3) a dead end loading zone. After the third misdirection I threw the van into reverse with profane energy, during which my daughter kept wisely silent.
We finally made our way back to a city street and drove around in a square, deducing that eventually we would emerge once again on University Avenue, which we did. This time I turned left into the parking lot, followed those “event parking” signs down a road that appeared to curve right into the woods and made me so nervous I pulled a U-y and finally found the deserted lot, with the barriers up and no signs about event parking anywhere. I decided a parking ticket would be less hassle than trying to figure out all these signs and parked.
All this driving around in circles made Madeline late for her residence tour, but fortunately they were running so many it didn’t really matter. Afterwards, my difficulty with reading the campus map made us late for the first lecture. Madeline had trouble reading it as well – apparently map dyslexia is hereditary. By the end of the day, however, we had walked through the same area four times and were beginning to recognize our surroundings – just in time for the event to end. Now we had to find our way back to the car.
The ride home was quiet and uneventful, because in that direction I recognize all the signs and know where I’m going. It’s a good thing I do, because the GPS failed to recognize that Highway 8 East automatically turns into the 401. No exit exists, so the machine was unnaturally silent all the way to Oakville, wherein it suddenly piped up again, advising me to get off the highway prematurely and take a route home that would have added fifteen minutes to our trip.
It may be my dreams of driving all over Canada are going to need an adjustment. I had been planning to either buy a small camper or outfit my minivan into something I can sleep in. But perhaps, in light of recent events, I should replace those ideas with something more suited to my skill set. Like a bus schedule.