I have a terrible sense of direction. I cannot remember a sequence of more than two turns – inadequate for navigating a typical suburban maze. When people tell me about their favorite restaurants, cigar shops, or bail bondsmen I nod politely unable to process their description of the location. Shortcuts that are in the public domain are mysteries to me. I can’t risk alternate routes because one wrong turn and I will be lost and forced to start a new life on the first cul-de-sac that has parking.
I have compensated with Google Maps, resulting in piles of paper in the passenger seat. But for my birthday I was given a GPS. The gift coincided with our recent trip to LA. While some basic geographic awareness of where I live has penetrated my brain, I remain hopeless in the endless sprawl of LA.
LA natives are of little help with my problem because they can rarely agree on which Freeway to take. I’ve seen friendships fractured in debates on the virtues and failings of the 101 vs. the 5 at different times of the day. In LA, Freeways are like the stock market. Everyone thinks they have an angle that will put them ahead - and everyone is wrong.
I set up the GPS, typed in the destination coordinates, and a no-nonsense women, (perhaps my elementary school librarian), began giving me instructions. It was divine. I didn’t worry (beyond the usual vicissitudes of driving in LA). Usually I clutch the wheel in one hand and my directions in the other, frantically checking signs to make sure I hadn’t misread something and missed my turn. With GPS, I just drove and turned when the librarian told me to. Nothing could have been easier.
But then I felt strange, oddly lightheaded. I had read that reliance on GPS could lead parts of the brain responsible for directional sense to atrophy. Mindlessly driving I could feel my hippocampus shrinking.
I took a deep breath – based on my native navigational talents I didn’t have much of a hippocampus to begin with. What I felt was the lack of stress, something so profound that it became a source of stress in its own right.
GPS grew on me. Besides reducing stress it looked like the navigational computer in the X-Wing fighters in Star Wars. As I drove I kept whispering to myself, “Stay on target, stay on target…”
In fairness, I do this all the time. Except when I’m whispering to myself, “Almost there, almost there.”
Of course Luke Skywalker only destroyed the Death Star after turning off his navigational computer and I bet he had a monster hippocampus.