I always thought I had a pretty good sense of direction. I realize that anyone who’s ever ridden in a car with me or had me call them while I drove around aimlessly with no idea where I am (“Um, I’m driving down a freeway? And I might be going east. Or possibly west? No, I don’t see an exit sign. I might be in Santa Clara. Or… not.”) would read that and stare at me in astonishment that I would ever for even a single second of my life think I had good navigation skills, but it’s true. I used to think (and even sometimes now am absolutely convinced!) I had a fairly reliable internal compass. I think it’s because my family is so much worse than directions than I am. Of all of them, I was always the only one who had any idea which direction we were headed and which way we should veer next. Compared to them, I am a GPS navigation system, sensing when we should turn left. Or make a u-turn as the case may be. If you only knew where I came from, you would applaud how far I’ve come.

Of course, I’m actually terrible at navigation, always lost, turning around, wandering the night streets asking for directions.

I normally bring my navigation system with me when I travel and know I’ll be renting a car. But this week, I didn’t quite have room in my bag, so I headed off directionless. I did write down directions, but I have this tendency to just write streets and turns and not number of miles or expected time. So, I’ll be driving along, no idea if I’m supposed to go 2 miles or 20 until the exit and at some point I wonder. Am I even going the right way? Am I still on the right freeway? This happened on the way to the airport yesterday, and I ended up pulling up Google Maps on my Blackberry, which is no easy feat when you’re going 75 down the freeway. (I was going the opposite direction of the airport, by the way. In case you were wondering.)

I notice that I’m a completely different driver in California. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in California, where driving fast and aggressively is just what you do, or if all just feels like home so much that I get right back into my youthful driving ways (er, I may have accumulated a few tickets when I last lived here, all those years ago), or if it’s that I’m not driving my extremely crappy car that makes driving nearly impossible. Maybe it’s a little of each. It’s not that I always get the greatest car when I rent. Sometimes I get lucky, like when I got that Infiniti G35 the other day. But sometimes, like this week, I get a station wagon. A station wagon? Do they even make those anymore? Somehow I ended up speeding in it anyway.

I’m always so anxious about getting on planes, even though I know how the odds say that flying is so much safer than driving. I was reminded of that yesterday when I was almost killed driving home from the airport. It’s amazing how many things can go through you mind in such a short period of time. I was driving through a tunnel, going about 65, when I realized the SUV in the next lane over was going to swerve into my lane. I thought the following: Surely he sees me and isn’t going to swerve into my lane. Fuck. I think he’s really coming over here. Where am I going to go? I’m in a tunnel! He’s going to knock me right up into the wall. OK, all I can do is swerve out of his way into this other lane. Is there a car in that lane? Is it clear? What if I just speed up and swerve halfway out of the lane? Will that be enough to get out of his way and not hit any other potential cars? I thought all of this in the fraction of a second that it took for me to get barely get out of the way as the SUV headed straight at me. I only panicked after I was safe.

My internal compass does, as it turns out, tend to kick in when I’m making decisions. And I think I do pretty well. I’m logical, pragmatic, objective, decisive. I spend all day at work making decisions. We should go this way. That should go this other way. I can pick a direction and stick with it, then assess as we go along if we should change course.

But. Then there are other times. When it’s just like when I’m driving and I have no direction at all. And decisions seem absolutely impossible. And so I continue along, waiting to see what the next day will bring. And when you don’t have to decide what to do about a big SUV barreling at you at 70mph, sometimes go along with no sense of direction works just fine.

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