There’s no shortage of metaphorical ways to become unmoored in life — lost souls, lost hope, lost causes, lost love. I’ve suffered from all of them at some point. But what I particularly specialize in is just getting lost. Anywhere. Anytime.
I have zero sense of direction. I suspect it’s a genetic mutation, the problem is so acute. Just ask my family about the extent of this problem; they would throw me under the bus.
Fortunately, none of my children inherited this problem. But my father suffered from it. It also seems to be correlated with a tendency to lose things, especially keys and cell phones.
A Life With No Sense of Direction
My directional dysphoria began at a young pre-GPS age. When high school dawned, I was terrified by the thought of getting lost in the circular megalith that was my large high school. I feared that I wouldn’t arrive at class on time, having inevitably and stupidly chosen the longest way to proceed. I was right.
This pattern of getting lost and fretting over getting lost continued into college and beyond. Here is a brief rundown of where I’ve gone wrong in my life.
I’ve gotten lost in every city I’ve lived in. I have gotten lost in cities I’ve traveled to. I’ve gotten lost in my own neighborhood, in parking lots, in parks, in buildings, in restaurants, on metros, everywhere basically.
I once got lost going to my daughter’s championship swim meet and almost missed her best event. I didn’t get lost going to my wedding because that blessed event occurred at my own house. I have no idea which way is north, south, east, or west. I may sometimes look like I’m striding down a street confidently, but believe me, I probably don’t know where I’m going.
I should have my passport revoked, I am so predisposed to getting lost. It’s all slightly embarrassing. People can scarcely believe that I’m a traveler.
It’s an inconvenient, unpleasant, and sometimes dire problem, especially when it raises my blood pressure to unhealthy levels or threatens my geographical cures.
The Advent of GPS
The odd thing about this “disorder” is that, otherwise, I have an excellent memory. I’m a lawyer, after all, and an ivy league graduate. I just can’t remember directions. The advent of GPS was a tremendous boon to me, and filled in the directional gap in my brain.
Still, GPS does not eradicate the problem entirely. Getting lost can still seem like a survival threat, and it can happen so easily. You lose cell phone reception. Your battery is depleted. You don’t have a map. You don’t see a single other person. Even if you did, you might not be able communicate.
And there is that niggling problem about Google Maps telling you to start in a certain direction. I have no idea what “head northeast” means. Why can’t it just say turn left?
Over time, I have developed compensating strategies. I write down directions and addresses on my phone, bring a portable charger, drop pins, and take photos of where I park my car.
Still, the threat of getting lost looms, ever-present, with its attendant mental deterioration.
The BS of Getting Lost to “Find” Yourself
Some people report experiencing “joy” from getting lost. They get lost to “find” themselves or to “test” themselves. Seriously?
This is a foreign concept to me, and seems like a silly buzz phrase. It’s amazing what BS people can believe. In fact, those people are probably lifestyle bloggers, a tremendously dumb field of endeavor.
While I like spontaneity and getting off the beaten track as much as the next person, I don’t need a dash of anxiety and disorientation along with it. To the contrary.
And I likewise don’t think my GPS has “blinded me to my surroundings.” Rather, it sets me free to enjoy them, rather than having to “landmark” every few steps or inadvertently drive down one way streets (yes, I’ve done that).
A Romantic Road Trip
On my latest adventure abroad, I predictably found myself in the all too familiar situation of being and feeling lost, a situation that never actually improves with experience. And it was a colossally stupid case of getting lost.
I had just fallen in love with a new place, southern Spain. I was traveling solo with my rental car named Valentina. (Yes, I’m American and, yes, we name our cars.)
Anyway, with my BFF Google Maps, I had successfully navigated to all my intended destinations, even through mountainous villages, tiny winding roads, a thousand roundabouts, and confusing city streets. I absolutely adored the Royal Alcazar in Seville. I stopped in Osuna, an adorable Game of Thrones site, and Antquera, an amazing white peueblo that enthralled me with its beauty and architecture.
I was feeling indomitable and semi-vindicated. I bragged to my husband about what a blessedly uneventful week it had been, driving wise. Go me.
Plus, there’s a romance to road trips, isn’t there? You are in total control, you can detour wherever you want on a whim. You can indulge yourself.
Arrival in Granada
Late one night, too late in retrospect, I arrived in Granada Spain. To the directionally challenged, everything looks different at night. And, as inevitable as a Greek tragedy, trouble crept in.
I was driving from Seville and had stopped at several villages en route. I was absolutely beat from the walking, driving, and the very strenuous and stimulating business of gawking at beautiful sites. I wanted the day, lovely though it was, to end.
As I checked into my Air Bnb, my host showed me where to park in the dark subterranean garage. We went through two doors, requiring two remotes.
I carefully eased Valentina through narrow tunnels, maneuvering around massive columns, fervently hoping not to scratch her, mentally grateful that I had full insurance coverage.
I should have taken notes on how to decrypt the secret language of the convoluted parking garage. But my mind was wandering deep in thought in another direction. I was tired, and ready for a glass of wine and and my nightly appointment with the dream factory. I parked and followed my host blindly up to the apartment, without taking a good look at Valentina’s new home.
Lost in Translation
Morning dawned and my first day in Granada passed blissfully. I visited the Alhambra and the Albaycin neighborhood, reveling in the culture and sights. The next day, I left for a day trip to Nerja and Frigiliana, exiting the garage in Valentina without a care in the world.
Later that night, too late (again), I arrived back at my apartment parking lot in Granada. Or so I thought. It had been two days since I had entered the abyss; it was all very foggy in my memory banks. But it seemed to be in the right place, according to the GPS gods.
As I attempted to enter the parking lot ramp, a Spaniard approached, waving his arms, and telling me not to enter. He said very firmly, “It is private parking only. You cannot enter here.” I tried to explain that I had private Air Bnb parking, but he looked unpersuaded and waved me off. Then, I spied a suspicious sign on the garage door, that looked ominously like a do not enter sign.
Did I have the right parking lot? The right parking lot entrance? Was there a different exit and entrance? I felt uncomfortably confused; I hadn’t noticed the do not enter sign when I arrived. I messaged my air bnb host, to no avail.
I drove Valentina up and down Avenida de la Constitucion to make sure I had the right lot. It seemed so. So despite the Spaniards’s warning, I ventured down the entry ramp toward the do not enter sign.
The Dark Twisty Parking Lot
As I tried to drive down, people were exiting. I shifted into reverse and backed out. Was I going in the wrong way? There was no way two cars could pass each other on that narrow ramp. All signs pointed to trouble.
I was unsure and a bit queasy; a stinky pinch of fear stabbed at me.
Hesitantly, I ventured back down again, extremely annoyed at myself for being distracted and failing to take proper notes upon arrival. European parking garages are hellish, confusing, and cramped.
The last one I was in my travel partner had dubbed the “gates of hell.” Why had I forgotten the first lesson of being directionally dysfunctional?
As I descended, I saw that there were actually two possible entrances, a fact which had escaped me before. One entrance had the “do not enter” sign; the other didn’t. When I pressed my remote control, the entrance on my right opened. And so I entered, semi-confident that I was making the correct and only choice.
I was immediately disoriented though. Where was the second garage door exactly? Nothing seemed familiar. Was it me or the parking lot? Probably me, I mentally conceded.
I wished I had another sentient human with me. Two heads are always better than one.
I felt doomed.
I sat there in my car pondering where to go and what to do. I could feel the stinky pinch of fear turning into panic, adrenaline pumping through my veins. It became a skull sized hell. I tried to nudge it away, but I was sorely tired and used up. My defenses were down. I clearly needed some sleep to reboot my cognitive maps.
I laughed maniacally and let out a tiny sob, wondering what exactly to do at this late hour and in such a profound state of un-foundness.
My mind leapt to dramatic ends. It’s a habit of mine, imagining worst case scenarios.
Would I have to spend the night in the garage? Abandon my car in an empty spot and hope for the best? Risk getting towed? I shuddered.
It is this emotional deterioration that is the real threat when you get lost. You need to think rationally, but the psychological fallout robs you of your rational faculties.
A Remarkably Kind Spaniard
Then, I encountered a Spaniard in the parking lot, this one less shouty. As I sat dejectedly in my car, paralyzed and wondering what to do next, he seemed to sense my dire plight.
Juan explained that he was the “president of the building association” and could help me. Like the prior Spaniard, though, Juan wondered what I was doing in a “private parking lot.” I tried to explain. It’s hard to explain when you don’t speak Spanish and are feeling rather panicky. I showed him the remote control that had granted me entry. That, at least, was beyond dispute and confirmed my bona fides.
Juan was remarkably kind, a state of affairs which instantly made me adore all things Spanish. He tried to determine, based on my Air Bnb address, which spot was mine. All I could remember was that it was parking place #13. “No,” Juan said, “the #13 spots on both levels are taken. That can’t be your spot.”
Oh, Shit. Really? Had I mis-remembered the number? To be sure, the #13 spots didn’t look like where I’d parked two days ago. I didn’t recognize a thing. But I’ve gotten lost in parking lots before, so a lack of recognition wasn’t really determinative or even at all unusual, especially at night.
Juan offered to let me park in another vacant space overnight. My hero. At least there was one possible resolution of the nightmare.
At that very moment, my Air Bnb host Lourdes messaged me that she would come to my rescue. She assured me that the entrance and exit to the parking garage were the same, so the “do not enter” sign was not a deterrent to me, just to other would be parkers. She said
it was “common” to be confused by Spanish garages. I wondered how many other victims the labyrinthian garage had claimed … I clung to the thought that I wasn’t the only one so ridiculously confounded. It reduced my heavy shame ever so slightly.
Lourdes arrived. She and Juan worked out that I had mistakenly turned into the second entrance on the right instead of proceeding straight into the “do not enter” entrance. I had literally landed in an adjacent parking garage for a different building. Round of applause.
I wondered for a moment if this was my all time worse gaff, this self immolation in a parking lot. I wondered for a moment if I should mention it to my husband. I instantly rejected the idea. I knew where that would lead — to a decade of being mocked at family gatherings. It’s our little secret, ok internet readers?
Lost & Found
I effusively hugged my beloved Juan goodbye, exceedingly grateful for his willingness to help a complete stranger. Lourdes guided me through the “do not enter” door and down to the designated spot once again, which still looked quite unfamiliar to me.
This time, I took extensive notes of the garage’s twists and turns, and even re-traced my steps after parking. When you have no sense of direction, even when you aren’t currently lost, you assume you will be in the near future.
I then gratefully dragged myself up the elevator and into the apartment, feeling lucky that I had escaped certain doom. I hadn’t really wanted to spend the night in a parking garage.
The next day, I had another day trip planned to Guadix, an appealing Andalusian town where people live in renovated subterranean caves. Gun shy, I momentarily contemplated not leaving the garage to avoid a possible repeat of my ordeal. I really did.
But it was my final day in Spain and I proceeded as planned, intrepid traveler that I am. This time, I arrived home with daylight to spare (amazing how much that helps) and parked perfectly in the exact right spot in the maze-like garage. Whew.
I had done it. I had successfully driven solo through southern Spain, with only a parking lot to call my enemy.
Now I just had to return Valentina at the airport.
Sounds easy, right? Then I remembered that I had trouble finding the rental car return in Bilbao on my last trip. It was, you guessed it, in an unmarked underground parking garage.