Lost But Not Lost

DeWitt Clinton —


I really wasn’t lost.

I was just looking for where I wanted to go, or wanted to end up. Now that I’m back where I started, I know I can get to where I wanted to go, if ever I wanted to go there again. Actually, I do want to go there again, but not the way I did when I really wasn’t lost.

Trail under an overpass in an urban area.

The Marathon Route — Photo credit: Bill Powell

I knew that if I just headed south of the freeway on 35th street, I’d run into Pierce. But soon I knew I had lost the street crossing and started to pull into gas stations, knowing gas stations are the best place to get directions, especially if a street is so close by. I must have just missed the turn a block north, or south. I had memorized the little map of the trail I wanted to get to before leaving home, but the map did not have any sharp detail, and I couldn’t expand it on my computer. I felt confident that if I just headed south I’d find it. Who couldn’t?

The gas station owner was perplexed. He asked his young cousin to help, who pulled out his I-phone but couldn’t find anything like 35th and Pierce. But it’s just around here, off of 35th , isn’t it? I had entered a déjà vu as I’ve been in this predicament before, even after the invention of I-phones with Google maps to take us anywhere in the world.

I still want to think gas station managers or gas station assistants would know where a place is, if the street is close by. Sometimes the attendant will say, I’ve just moved here and don’t know any streets. Or, I’ll get a look of a perplexed face with palms turned up. It’s just sad that gas station owners don’t know the neighborhood like they did, ages ago. Oh, and while I’m not really lost, who sells maps anymore? Not gas stations. Lots of hot dogs, lots of drinks for thirsty travelers who might be lost, but no maps.

I drive further south on 35th to the next gas station, and a customer in the potato chip aisle tells me I should go north to National, it’s right there, just after National. Okay, good.

I’m almost there. Back up 35th , to National, only where I want to turn is a ¼ mile bridge, and I can see where I want to go, only it’s about 300 feet below. I keep going north, and decided to turn around, and start taking ANY side street that might hair pin down to the industrial valley and the trail I want to practice on. I’m trying to drive to a new trail so I can determine the elevation of some tricky hills for an upcoming marathon. That’s why I’m here. A simple drive to a simple address not too far away from home.

But now I’m in a worse shape than ever. I’m driving down wrong way streets, breathing much faster than I want to, and looking suspiciously in my rear view mirror for red lights. I decide to pull over and pull out my own I-phone, quite dated, but I’m not very good with my finger tips, and end up with a Google map for 35th in New York City, and don’t want to go there, not now or maybe never. I’m just looking for a bike path off of 35th in south Milwaukee, that’s all. Why is that so hard?

Okay, now I’m a little frustrated. My Google map is now telling me where I live. No, no, not where I live, where I want to go! I’m driving through a neighborhood that still isn’t in the industrial valley, but then, something happens. If I keep driving, and turning left long enough, I’ll end up further down in the valley, somewhere.

I’ve actually wandered on my own through Trieste, Italy on the way to Yugoslavia (long before the wars) on the way to catching a bus, to get to Thessalonica and finally to Athens, to the port, and on to Crete to walk through the old Palace of Knossos. That’s after hitchhiking from Brussels. I still have the old hip pocket map of Europe, if ever I need to hitchhike in Europe again. How could I do that and not find a simple trail head 30 minutes from home? Perhaps if I had hitchhiked to the street I wanted to find, and the trail head I wanted to start on, I might have arrived sooner, or not at all.

And then I found it.

The lost street off 35th. Somehow I’m now down in the industrial valley, on Pierce, really.

I’m on Pierce, and I almost miss the trail marker indicating the trail head. Parking is so easy. I’m completely exhausted for the walk/jog/run, but I wanted to get here, so I spend about an hour jogging east, then west, to help me to get ready for a marathon route I’m pretty unfamiliar with, here in the valley, where I am now not lost.

On the way back to the car, I spot a friendly nature center, and the guide says, sure, 35th is just up the street. Okay, I’m game. I drive a few blocks and there it is, 35th Street, valley level, and I’m looking up at the bridge 300 feet above me, also 35th Street, bridge level. Frowning, I keep driving east to 27th . That’s the street I should have been on. I could have turned on 27th . That would have been so easy.

I drive home, on an entirely new route, and I’m actually exhilarated about not being as lost as I thought I was, and I found that I could navigate my way through a city I have lived in for 30 or more years without Googling, if I just stop looking for the street I’m looking for on a little glowing screen.

About dewittc (4 Articles)
DeWitt Clinton is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, and lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He continues to write and publish creative non-fiction and poetry in a variety of national and international journals.

4 Comments on Lost But Not Lost

  1. Ron Berger // June 14, 2016 at 9:05 am // Reply

    Your piece reminds me of an experience I had last summer when Ruthy and I drove 2500 miles around Nova Scotia—without a smart phone and only a rented flip phone. We did prepare with some Google maps covering our itinerary that I printed off the Internet. We arrived at the Halifax airport after dark, picked up our rented car, and headed to our hotel in the pouring rain. The Google map guided us part of the way but then sent us in a wrong direction, so we stopped at a convenience store to ask for help the old-fashioned way. I told the clerk, “I’m lost,” and he said, “You’re not lost, you’re here,” and he set us on the right course.

    Later in the trip, before heading up north to a B&B in a remote area of the province, I called the B&B owner to ask for directions off the main thoroughfare. She gave them to me and cautioned that I should not use a smart phone. Her last customers who did ended up in New Brunswick, she said.

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  2. Carolyn Wedin // June 14, 2016 at 9:23 am // Reply

    Hi, DeWitt! You have nailed it (old-fashioned nail and hammer image). Your old colleague, Carolyn

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  3. Thanks DeWitt for writing this interesting piece. I’ve had similar experiences with technology. I have driven a number of times across the country. Before the advent of GPS navigation in cars, I always studied the road maps in each state. Doing that led to discoveries along the way I would have missed had I not studied the map. This kind of serendipity is completely missing with GPS, which I depended on the last couple of trips. In the future, I’ll go back to the maps.

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  4. Yes, as the maps don’t have you turning into a dead end or alley even though the sweet voice in the GPS is so convincing 🙂

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