Life Without a Map

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.

I keep thinking about what Mark said about maps: that they show you where you are but not where you’re going. You never really know where you’re going until you’re already there.

Flying by Night

I should have known when I started this quick trip of mine, the night before I left, when I couldn’t find my map of Florida. Though I could find decent maps online, for some reason, I was having trouble printing them. But I’ve been all over Florida, at least as far south as Melbourne, Orlando, and Tampa on business trips and vacations, and I felt fairly comfortable that I could find my way in that direction again.

Still, just in case, I thought it was a good idea to purchase another road atlas. Or at least a fold-out map of Florida, particularly since  I have several other trips to Central Florida coming up this Fall and next Spring.

On my way home from work the night before I left, I dropped by Kmart to pick up micro-cassette tapes and a map. I couldn’t find the tapes or the map anywhere.

I paused at a drugstore for the same. Again, they were out of everything I needed. No tapes, no maps.

What? Was everyone else heading out on the highway with a  tape recorder and a desperate need for a Florida map, too?

I finally ended up at Walgreen’s where I’d bought my tape recorder. Ironically, they were out of the tapes, too. But I did find maps. I selected a plastic-encased one that folded out, one that wouldn’t so easily suffer Grape Fanta spills or chocolate-covered doughnut smears or end  up wadded up in a ball underneath my seat. Perfect!

While I was there, I found a few other toiletries to take with me. My usual brand of non-allergen detergent was on sale for half-price, so naturally, I had to stock up on about 6 jugs of the stuff. Plus, the girls had requested a few items, too.

I threw everything into my cart and hauled it up front to the  cashier.  Sure, I’d stopped in for cassette tapes, which they were fresh out of, and maps, of which I had a great one. Yet, I’d ended up with a cart full  of stuff. Might as well, right? I’d needed all of it and I would’ve had to go back for it later, so why not?

Except that the boy at the cash register—who looked like he  was 12 but was probably in college—scanned the bar- code on the map and looked confused. “It’s not in the system,” he commented.

“Okay,” I commented back, waiting for him to punch in the numbers that comprised the UPC.

He looked up at me. I looked back at him with my best  “Well????” expression.

“It won’t scan. It’s not in the system,” he repeated. “It was on the shelf,” I said for the first time.

“It’s not in the system.”

“It was on the shelf.” I guessed he needed assurance that I had actually found the item in the store and that I hadn’t slipped it in from off the street to try to make him take money for it.

“It’s not in the system,” he said yet again.

“Then…punch in the numbers,” I suggested. “Maybe it just didn’t scan.”

“Oh, yes, it scanned. It’s just not in the system.” He handed the map to me, but I didn’t take it.

I looked from the map to him and back again. Still, I

didn’t take it. I waved my credit card. “You can’t buy the map, ma’am.” “What?”

By this time, there were several people in line behind me at 9:55 on a Friday night. I’d come to this store, loaded up my cart, and the only thing I had to have on that night that couldn’t wait until later was this map that he kept telling me wasn’t in the system and was now trying to hand back to me.

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it.

“I’m serious, ma’am. You can’t buy this product.”

I quickly assumed that he was a new employee in need of an education in the retail business. “This is your store’s product. It was on your shelf. It has a UPC and a price on it. Even if it’s not in your system, surely you have some way of coding it as miscellaneous, punching in the  obviously marked price on it, and selling it to me.”

“I can’t sell it to you, ma’am. You don’t understand. It’s not in the system. You can’t buy this map. You’ll have to make your trip without it.”

“I need the map—”

“Here, ma’am.” For a second, I thought he was going to tell me it was free. “Take the map…and please put it back on the shelf.”

Ah-ha. So other customers couldn’t buy it either?

By this time, the people behind me in line were laughing, too, and I  was beginning to wonder if I was to make the trip without the map at all. Finally I convinced him to call his super- visor over to help him—which he  balked at at first!—but I’d had experience with this store not always having items in their “system” and their other employees always  re-categorized the items and rang me up on the spot. Eventually, a  supervisor showed  up,  and  a  few  key  punches  later,  a  FLORIDA MAP…..$6.99 beamed back at me from the digital display on the cash register.

My trip down to Central Florida was lovely but less eventful. I did take a few detours, but they were all my choices. I looked at the map on  one occasion, and that was to decide which back road I wanted to take.

The trip back was a little different. I took a brief peek at the map while I was loading the car and I knew exactly which two roads to get on to get out of town. Except that one of my friends needed help.

We’d stayed up late talking about old times, late enough that she  missed her ride back to where she was staying with other friends at a timeshare condo. She crashed overnight at my hotel, and the next morning I offered to drive her back on my way out…supposedly only a block or two away.

That’s when my trip home turned into another one of those annoying analogies that would make Mark smile and say, “I told you so, sweetness!”

The directions were simple. We departed my hotel and took a  left…a left…a left…a left…a left…a left…a left…and another left. Yes, we were probably going in circles, but it’s a big place. And it was a biiiiiiiig circle.

When I left the timeshare condo complex, I had fairly good  directions. I knew which street to take, which hotels to pass, the major landmarks, the way to the road that would take me home. Yes, I could do this all without a map. Just a few directions and that would get me to where I needed to go.

Except that the friends giving me directions weren’t that familiar with the road. They went to great trouble to tell me in detail how to  navigate a place that they themselves had never been. They’d heard it from someone who had, but they’d never actually experienced those roads  themselves. So the directions were a little off. Off enough that they were, well, virtually use- less.

Within 30 minutes, I found myself utterly, totally lost thanks to a wrong street number.

When I stopped for gas and to blast the love bugs off my windshield—the bane of Florida during hurricane season—I tried to ask the clerk for the best way to get to where I needed to go. But the clerk didn’t speak my language so well. Like my friends, the stranger who knew the route also was of no help to me.

I shrugged it off and decided to just enjoy the trip. I had plenty of  time, plenty of gas, plenty of love bugs still on my front grill, plenty of Grape Fanta, and plenty of daylight.

Even though I had a map with me, it was no help, none at all. I could see the big roads on it that I needed to get to. I could see lakes and  the city and landmarks, but what I really needed—if I needed a map at all—was one of the city itself in- stead of a state map. A state map was fine to see the big picture of where I was going, but to know my exact next step, I needed a map that would zoom in at a much closer level. Since I didn’t have one, I would have to rely on other signs.

And there were other signs to help me get to where I was going! I kept the morning sun to my right shoulder. I noted the commercial vehicles that hailed from cities to the northwest and followed them. I kept an eye on the paths that were adjacent to mine…ones that ran parallel  and ones that crossed. I paid attention to other traffic, to the businessmen in suits heading into the city and the weary tourists leaving.

The more I looked, there were signs everywhere, mostly subtle ones that told me which way to go.

An hour later, I was well north of the city, chugging along with my brief episode of being lost behind me. I’d seen beautiful houses, churches, and lakes. Said hello to a couple of people I otherwise would not have met. Picked up a few unexpected souvenirs, love bugs not included.

The fear of getting lost and not knowing my way. The momentary panic of being alone and on my own and not knowing where I  was. In the long run, I ended up exactly where I needed to be in spite of  not having a detailed map. I had an overview, an idea of where I was going and where I was to be and when I was to be there. But I’d done all right without knowing every moment.

Now if only I can apply that lesson to real life. And live life without a map. Or at least, without one that gives street de- tail.

All I have to do is head in the right direction and trust

I’ll get there eventually.