Driving By Numbers

| 5/18/2011 7:50:23 AM

A photo of Cindy MurphyI live in a Mitten … The Mitten, to be exact.  That’s it … hold up your left hand, fingers together, thumb out at a 45 degree angle.  There you have it – a map of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  Is that Detroit?  Or an age spot?  You’d think with this handy, built-in map I have wherever I go, I’d never get lost.  Oh, if only these veins, wrinkles, and scars were roads! 

I’ve always been bad with directions.  A recent case in point involves the final leg of the quest to find my young daughter a pair of used cross-country ski boots before Christmas this year.  It proved to be more difficult than I imagined; a good set of used boots are scarce.  I’d scoured used sporting goods stores, thrift shops, and Ebay, and was out of options until someone told me about a man he knew with children who skied.  I called, and sure enough, he had outgrown ski equipment to sell. 

My elation turned to dread when he gave me driving directions.  “It’s easy,” he assured me after I groaned into the phone.  He didn’t understand.  His directions were all “number roads.”  M-43, 52nd Street, and CR-673 – the sum of this equation only added up to one thing:  I was sure to get lost.  I have a deep-seeded inability to grasp anything to do with numbers, probably stemming from that incident in 3rd grade when I was caught cheating on a multiplication test.  Beth Winters didn’t know her times tables any better than I did – which is why I got caught; we had all the same wrong answers.  I should have copied Robby Fisher’s paper; he got an “A,” and I would have avoided a lifelong number phobia.   

Assigning a number to a road takes no imagination; 52nd St. is not nearly as poetically verdant as Forest Lane, as stately as Oak Avenue, or breezy as Lakeshore Drive.  It seems some number road namers have a sense of humor, though.  Take our 71st ½ Street, for example.  What exactly, is a half street?  Will it lead me only half-way there?  Or is it a street that goes the distance and a half?  Either way, I’m sure it’s a long way to travel just to end up in the middle of nowhere. 

The ski boot man’s final instructions were “turn east on South Street.”  Is that even possible?  Could it be anymore confusing?  People in Michigan seem to have never learned our right from our left.   “Turn right” or “turn left” is just not in our vocabulary.  We do, however, know our north from our south, east from our west and everything in between like the back of our hand.  It must have something to do with that built-in map.

We might have once, perhaps long ago, known right from left.  The term “Michigan Left” implies it.  This is simply not the case, because to execute a “Michigan Left,” you must turn right.  Begin by driving past the street on which you wish to turn left.  Continue heading straight until coming to a break in the median NOT marked “emergency vehicles only” (this is important; don’t ask how I know). This is where you turn left.  Then head back in the direction from whence you just came until reaching your original target left turn.  Turn right.  Only it’s not right; it’s south.  Or maybe north, east, or west.  Don’t ask me; I got lost back at the U-turn.

Cindy Murphy
6/1/2011 7:39:13 AM

I agree, Michelle – tourists ask some of the most obvious questions; just like Shelby, I’ve gotten the “where is the beach?” question myself more than once. You can’t miss it – Lake Michigan would be a clue you’d think; it’s huge. But tourists are fun (for the most part), and we’ve all been one at one place or another. Too funny about the wedding. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a funeral in town that day! Can you imagine someone “following the cars” and ending up at a grave-site ceremony instead of an open bar reception?

Michelle House
5/29/2011 1:10:35 AM

lol, is right. Most people knew what we were talking about. Those who did not, went to find a grown up who did. One time, there was a big wedding at the Catholic Church, and a friend got so tired of telling people where it was, he just started telling people, "Follow that car" they all made it to the wedding. I can give great directions, (now) following them not so much. :-p I lived in Vermont for a few years, tourists annoyed the heck out of me, "Where is the best place to see the leaves, changing colors?" Me; "D'oh, where the trees are, drive up the mountain" Shelby will learn how to give directions, or not. lol. And to be honest, a few times, as tweens, we would on purpose, send people in the wrong direction. What can I say, we were bored. :-p

Cindy Murphy
5/25/2011 7:57:01 AM

Hi, Michelle. Too funny about giving directions in a small town as a kid by using landmarks because you didn't know the roads...it made me laugh, because just yesterday, Shelby did the same thing to me trying to describe where a friend of hers lives. "You know, Mom...it's on the outside of town on that road that leads into town, it's either called Broadway or Phoenix, I can't remember which, but it's the one the Art Center is on." “Uhm…Dear? Broadway and Phoenix both run into town from opposite directions; they intersect, and the Art Center is on the intersection corner.” She didn’t understand my confusion. I shudder to think about her giving directions to other people. Our town doubles in size this time of year with summer residents and tourists. As kind of a hometown pride thing, one summer she and her friends wrote “Not a Tourist” on their hats, t-shirts or whatever else they happened to be wearing while downtown….until they got tired of giving directions to tourists, that went something like this: “Where’s the beach?” (they were standing in sight of Lake Michigan) “Down by the lake.” “Where’s the lake?” “It’s that big body of water we’re looking toward. The one with the lighthouse in front of it.”

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