Some who wander are lost

The teacher’s pets would be called up to her desk. They, in turn, would pass out the precious gray and turquoise newsprint workbooks. This would signal the best part of the fourth-grade curriculum — map skills.

Compass rose, mileage scales, longitude and latitude: Each new bit of information unlocked the mysteries of exploration. I studied images and map keys, knew the difference between intrastate and interstate signs, and could accurately predict distances. By 9 years old, I was ready to navigate.

At home, the Rand-McNally Road Atlas was my friend. I studied places I had lived and visited. I traced the route before our yearly camping trip to Maine. It’s a friendship that has survived, as there is still an atlas in our living room.

There are bumps in every relationship. Old Rand-McNally and state road maps let me down when Bill and I drove cross-country in our twenties. A six-lane highway cloverleaf in Chicago was the issue. Looking at the page, there was no way to tell that an immediate left lane off-ramp followed the right lane on-ramp. Strong words expressing the stress of rush hour traffic were met by an atlas-like projectile aimed at the driver.

Later, we embraced the GPS navigation unit for our road trips, but the atlas still rode shotgun, just in case. The best part of our device was the variety of programmable voices. We had the pirate: “Argh! You have arrived, Matey!” Fun, but it was hard to keep track of port and starboard. The Hungarian grandmother would scold the driver if they missed a turn, “If you listened to me, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Our favorite was the voice of George W. Bush. His directions were peppered with random side comments. “Bear right ahead, I’m not sure if it is a polar bear or a grizzly bear …” This technology, too, became obsolete as map apps took over.

Reliance on technology has undermined my lifetime of navigational skills. Recently when traveling to a lacrosse game, Bill and I blindly followed the app’s disembodied voice. We even commented that this wasn’t our usual turn. But it wasn’t until we completed a 10-mile loop, twice, that we abandoned technology and trusted our memory. We arrived at our destination shortly after.

When it comes to running in an unknown locality, I don’t use phone apps. Traditionally, I’d grab a tourist map and carry it along, consulting it if necessary. This worked until this year, but tourism has gone completely digital. There weren’t any print maps, only QR codes and websites. Fortunately, we were staying along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and since rivers flow in one direction, I figured this would be a clear-cut route.

At first light, I set out — river on my right, city on my left. I had my plan: Run for 20 minutes, turn around, and then head back. Simple. No other directions were needed. Except the walkway suddenly ended, and I was ejected onto the street. The path continued up ahead, I just needed to figure out how to access it. A detour sent me around a block or two, but I found a Riverwalk sign and returned to the path. Back in business, I picked up the pace, admiring the flowers blooming along the way. The sky was getting lighter now.

Ahead there was a curve, and a few steps — I imagined myself as Rocky as I mounted them, an aging Rocky, because I examined each step so I wouldn’t fall. Looking up, I spotted a large group of people sitting across the river. At the same time, I noted that the path had widened to a stage, and there was a podium down in front.

Horrified, I realized I had run smack into the middle of a sunrise church service. As I was already mid-stage, there was nothing to do except sprint as fast as I could and get out of there. Good idea, but there was no other exit. So that left me like a video game rabbit, running across and back, with no easy way to escape the congregation’s gaze. Afterward, I discovered the Riverwalk had several offshoots and I had unknowingly stumbled onto one.

Weeks later, still chagrined and contrite, I confessed my transgression to my friend Ash. She laughed and told me not to worry. I hadn’t intended to be sacrilegious.

“Just think,” she added. “If there was a teenager in the audience, you’re probably a meme now. You could be famous!”

Great, “lost runner interrupts church service” — just how I want to be “put on the map.”


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