Now before I tell you the story of how I got lost in the neighborhood that I've lived in for the last five years, I would like to say that even though I am proficient with directions… I sometimes struggle with angled streets.
Any time I have ever been significantly hopelessly lost it has almost always been due to an angled street. I don't mean some kind of slope where I'm literally leaning to one side, I speak of those streets in grid like cities that go just slightly on an angle so that enough time spent traversing it takes you to a place much farther than you anticipated.
New York City is about 80 percent grid and 20 percent slanted-kind-of-grid. From 14th street up everything makes sense. Below 14th street requires actual thought. The first time I really noticed this was in my early 20s.
I was walking around the West Village with a friend. We had a great dinner on a street I had never been on and then walked around for a while just chatting about life and soaking in the city, paying no particular attention to where we were meandering to.
After what seemed like hours of walking on the west side of Manhattan I was surprised to find us facing the East River. When I said that out loud (which is usually where I get into trouble, verbalizing my thoughts) my friend stopped walking, turned to me and said:
Richard… that's the Hudson, we're still in the West Village.
I would like to say that from that point on I developed a firm and solid understanding of how to navigate the West Village, but that is not the case.
Not even close.
Not too long after that I was in the West Village after working the door in freezing cold weather for a charity event at a lounge and was meeting my male friend at a gay bar so he could introduce me to his straight female friend who was making out with a different straight guy when I got there.
This was not my ideal situation.
I had consumed several drinks before I got there and after I arrived, I had a few more.
By the time I left the bar I walked in what I thought was the direction was the subway.
Twenty minutes later I finally found the train, which was a shame because the entrance to the subway was around the corner from the bar. But angled streets and alcohol are a horrible combination.
Somebody should put that on a bumper sticker.
Anyway, my point is I have struggled with angled streets even in familiar places.
So a couple of months ago on one of thise beautiful early spring days where the weather is finally hoverin around tolerable, I decided to take a walk to a different part of my neighborhood in Queens. I almost always walk west, and the several times I travelled south I never ventured more than a few blocks.
This time, determined to see parts of my city I'd never seen, I left my phone at home, grabbed my iPod and just started walking south.
I walked along that road for about 20 minutes or so.
It was a very pleasant walk through a very suburban part of town that I had never traversed before. I was listening to a series of TED talk pod casts trying to get smarter as I soaked up the sun.
Upon coming to a main thoroughfare I made a right turn and walked for another 20 minutes.
I had "discovered" a nice thriving town under an elevated train. There were shops and restaurants and it was like being a visitor in my own city.
I thought if I just made another right and walked for 20 more minutes I would find myself parallel to my starting point.
And theoretically this would have been right had I turned on to a street that was a straight line and not a 45 degree angle pointing away from my apartment.
Forty five minutes later I'm in Jamaica Queens on a street that I know the name of but have NO clue where it goes. I have a hunch on what directions are east and west but I'm not so sure as to actually test my hunch.
A good sign that you are lost is when you end up on an overpass you don't recognize over a highway you don't know.
I was aware that I looked out of place. The guy standing on the overpass looking from side to side and turning around in circles is either a drug dealer or an idiot.
I was the latter.
Still, I refused to ask for directions. Not that anybody would have judged me. It's not like I was going to start out by saying:
Hi, I've lived here for 5 years and I make really poor decisions, do you know where I live?
I was just too proud. It's one thing to not know your neighborhood, but to publicly admit and verbalize such a fact, my porcelain ego couldn't sustain such a blow.
I pretended to be killing time, hanging out, just being a guy on the corner while still trying to formulate a hypothesis on where the hell I actually was.
I took a guess and started walking what I thought was west.
I eventually found a building I recognized in the distance and meandered my way towards it.
I kept running into dead ends but when I found the cemetery (usually not a good sign) I knew I was at least close-ish.
The funny thing is buildings in the distance are much farther than they appear. My entire walk took about an hour longer than I would have liked.
But it was thrilling, an experience, a memory that would energize me and remind me how easy it is to lose my way and prevent me from making a similar mistake in the future.
Except of course, that 4 months later I would find myself in the same situation lost and standing next to a busy overpass Ina bad neighborhood in Seattle.
But that's a story for another day.