I have no sense of direction. After I’ve lived in a place for a few years, I’ll have a mental map of routes from my home to various places. But if I make a wrong turn on the way or come upon a construction detour or a closed bridge, all is lost. And so am I.
Given my lack of navigation skill and my scant experience with city driving, I was nervous to sally forth by car into Providence after we moved here. My Honda CRV sat idly in the driveway of our new home, collecting pollen and leaves and getting bonked by acorns. “We live in a walkable neighborhood,” I told myself. “Who needs to drive?” I have no sense of direction, but I do have a sense of when it’s time to get going. So after a few weeks of denial, I started assigning myself small car trips to force myself out of the driveway and onto the road.
I’ll admit to having and often using the GPS app on my phone – it’s an essential tool for an involuntary wanderer like me – but since I wanted to learn my way around Providence, I made a point of rarely consulting my little electronic best friend. Besides, the GPS just delivers you to your destination; it doesn’t help you find a parking place once you get there. If only life were like the movies, where you pull up to the museum, train station or busy nightclub and glide into a big parking space right in front!
One of my first Providence car trips was to a yoga studio a few miles away. I have to weave through a hubbub of street construction, but I eventually find the building. Then I look for a place to park. Here’s a spot on Congdon Street! Oh no, that sign says no parking between 8 and 10 a.m. Ok, I’ll park here on Benefit Street. Nope, one-hour parking only. How about farther up on Benefit where there’s no sign? Maybe, but the only car on the block is booted, so maybe not. Free three-hour parking on Meeting Street, great! But then I’ll have to walk four blocks down, and later up, a very steep hill. I circle back to North Main, squeeze past all the traffic cones and flaggers, and find a two-hour metered space a couple of blocks from the studio. At this point I really need some yoga. And a drink.
As time has passed I’ve driven more, reached all my destinations, and found places to park. I’ve been able to relax a bit and take note of my surroundings. The first thing I noticed was: a lot of other drivers just like me! People frowning in concentration, gripping the steering wheel tightly, craning their necks to look for street signs, one-way signs and stop signs, ready to slam on the brakes for cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and Pokemon Go players. Stop signs are particularly cagey; one might be hiding behind a shrub or tree, leaning toward the ground, or lurking on the LEFT side of the road. Street signs are often missing. Which doesn’t actually matter all that much because streets change names at will. Upton becomes Doyle, Goldsmith becomes Wriston, Abbott becomes Larch. (Or “The Larch”, as either Jeff or I will announce dramatically every time we pass it. That’s hysterically funny to any Monty Python fan in the car. And really annoying to any other unfortunate person in the car.)
Many of the street names on the East Side are uplifting or even inspiring. We have a street named after the “Father of Geometry”, Euclid. And a street named for Magellan, the great explorer who died while looking for the Spice Islands. I prefer to think about the “great explorer” part of that rather than the “died while looking” part. We have Neighbors Lane, Benefit and Benevolent Streets, Angell and Hope.
Now that I feel more comfortable driving around Providence, I sometimes turn on my GPS to see where it will take me. The other day it said, “Use the right lanes to turn left onto North Main Street.” I turned off the GPS and found my own way home.