I Lost My Way in San Francisco


It was late afternoon as I trudged up and down the hills of San Francisco yesterday, testing out the route from the Hotel Tomo to Kaiser Hospital, where my father is having heart surgery today. I thought it was just up the road, but somehow . . . it wasn’t. My heart pounded as I climbed uphill and down. I passed drunks, crazy people, and homeless guys picking stuff out of the garbage. A pretty blonde girl walking with her friend lit up a marijuana cigarette behind me. I Inhaled the smoke in happy amazement. I saw 50 sushi shops, a dozen liquor stores, four giant churches, and a lot of street signs, but I did not see Kaiser hospital.  Feeling like a stupid tourist, I kept checking the map I’d gotten at the hotel, but it didn’t help much. It was getting dark. I was not about to walk back in the dark in my cute purple hat and big old steal-able purse.
I had to face the fact: Kaiser Hospital was not here. It must have moved. Or something. Nervously clutching my purse against my side, I decided I couldn’t walk any farther. I crossed the street and took a bus back to Japantown and my hotel. Luckily, a gigantic Japanese sculpture marked my way. Back in my room, I looked at the more detailed map I had brought from home. Oh Lord. I was walking in the wrong direction. Kaiser was the other way!
This is not the first—or the 20th time this has happened to me. If I added up all the hours I have spent trying to find something that wasn’t where I thought it was, it would probably equal several years. I’m good at some things, but finding my way around isn’t one of them. It’s a good thing I now live in a town where it’s almost impossible to get lost. Everything is off of Highway 101 with ocean on one side and forest on the other. And yes, I have a GPS, but I didn’t think I needed it. Silly me.
One guy who didn’t get lost was the driver of the ride-share shuttle I took from the airport. The driver spoke minimal English and drove like a maniac. He raced all over San Francisco so fast I can’t believe he didn’t mow down a couple dozen pedestrians. At one point, he stopped on the street where I knew my hotel was, so I prepared to get out. This guy in Victorian costume welcomed us to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and then this guy in the back seat got out. I pretended I wasn’t halfway out the door. A half hour and a hundred streets later, we were back on Sutter and landed at the Hotel Tomo.
I still don’t have my bearings. The view outside my hotel room window is fabulous. Don’t know what I’m seeing but it’s the big city, and the lights are like one big Christmas display to me. I took a taxi to the hospital this morning. The talkative Iranian driver gabbed about divorce customs in his country and how his wife rags on him to eat healthy, and he wished my father well. $6.50 and worth every penny. I arrived one minute before the rest of the family got here from San Jose.
Somehow they didn’t get lost. Maybe my brother’s right. Maybe I am adopted. Nah.
My father is in surgery right now. I’m waiting with my brother. Please send up a prayer that Dad comes out of this all right.

Turn here? No!

She fit in the cupholder, a square box with a map on the front and a voice that kept telling me what to do. She was so insistent. “Turn right.” “Turn right.” “Turn right.” And I’d be a mile away from an exit ramp saying, “No, I can’t.” But did she listen? “Turn right.” Or, “Stay left. Stay left.” And I’d be as left as I could get.

My first experience with a GPS device occurred this last weekend when I flew to Sacramento to give a talk at the Sacramento branch of California Writers Club. I had no time to spare by the time I got to the front of the rental car line. When I mentioned that I hoped I didn’t get lost because I was supposed to give a speech in an hour, the woman offered me a GPS. Yes!

I lay part of it on the dash, set the box beside me, and typed in the address. The voice, whom I dubbed Guinivere, got me there 10 minutes early. I had directions printed out from Google, but it was easier to listen to a voice than to try to read, especially when five different freeways presented themselves at once. G. calmly told me which lane to be in and where to turn. I listened and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

But when I set her for my dad’s house in San Jose, a destination for which I don’t need directions, she kept telling me to turn off the freeway at places where I would only find trouble and traffic. Thus we dialogued.

“Exit right.”

“No!”

“Recalculating. In one point two miles, exit right.”

“No!”

I kept that poor woman recalculating from Fremont to San Jose, but she was with me when I turned into the driveway. “Arrived at destination,” she said as my father came out the door. I gave her an affectionate pat on the screen. “Thanks.”

Back in my own car in Oregon after a great weekend, I kind of missed that persistent voice. I didn’t need directions, but I could have used the company. Guinivere might not always be right, but when I don’t know where I’m going, it’s nice to have someone beside me who can recalculate.

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