With bum steer from a GPS, she's just hearing the blues

janet's world

April 12, 2009|By Janet Gilbert | Janet Gilbert,Special to The Baltimore Sun

In case you were wondering, there is a "Hilltop Drive" in downtown Baltimore. It's in the middle of the Clifton Park Golf Course.

What you won't find there is the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which is on Hilltop Circle. And if you're wondering where this column is going, it's about my circuitous route to UMBC via the Clifton Park Golf Course.

I have some sort of major wiring glitch in the directions area of the brain. Because I am a part-time brain specialist as well as humor columnist, I have self-diagnosed this area to be in the left side of the hippocampus. Or maybe the right side. I really can't say authoritatively. It depends on whether you're examining my hippocampus from above or the front. But according to the Web site Serendip, the hippocampus is all about "recalling spatial relationships in the world around us." So it is obvious to me that my hippocampus is not functioning optimally.

For as long as I can remember, I have had no orienteering skills, in dwellings or on roadways. If I exit a building by a different elevator bank than the one I used to enter, I can count on spending upward of 15 minutes looking for the proper parking lot and my vehicle. Parking garages, with their ubiquitous nondescript concrete decor, are but cruel urban labyrinths to me.

If you hand me a map in a car, you'd best be aware I'm only going to be able to use it as a large napkin for my lap as I eat my sub sandwich. And if you tell me to go west on a road, I'm going to expect to find the word west on the signage. This is why the Baltimore Beltway confounds me: How I am supposed to know whether to choose Towson or Essex, when all I know is I need to go west?

Before the invention of the GPS, I would memorize ways to get to key places in my town, and I would travel those exact routes, no matter where my starting point was. This means if I had to go to a wholesale club, I could get there from my home, but not necessarily from the mall. So I'd have to go home first, or at least back to some main road in the vicinity of my home that I recognized.

I also compensated for my crippling hippocampus deficit by taking "dry runs" to events the day before, or if my schedule did not permit, leaving my home approximately three hours before I was supposed to arrive at a destination. I also adopted the "Costanza Rule" (ref. Seinfeld ): If I had a strong inkling I should turn left, I did the opposite.

The invention of the GPS had a profound effect on my life when it first came out several years ago. It was worth its hefty price tag, though it resembled a large metal tissue box on the dashboard with the potential to do further damage to my already faulty hippocampus in the event of sudden swerving or braking.

Since I procured the portable hippocampus, I have listened to its wisdom exclusively, and it has rarely steered me wrong. Until last weekend, when I was to attend an a cappella concert at UMBC. I checked the college's address online - 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, Md. - and I entered it into my GPS, which came up with Hilltop Drive. I pushed "go" and off I went, on a tour of downtown Baltimore that left me decidedly off-campus at the top of a lonely hill at the Clifton Park Golf Course.

Thankfully, I arrived at the UMBC concert in Catonsville 45 minutes late, but just in time to hear my son sing a blues solo. I had to smile when I heard the song's title: "Don't want to lose you."

To contact Janet Gilbert or hear podcasts, go to www.janetgilbert.net.

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