Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Every time I complete a new blog entry, I immediately e-mail my new post to each of my four siblings. They've known me longer than anyone and they've supported me dutifully through all my career, husband, and hairstyle changes. I greatly value their opinions. So a few entries ago, when I sent off my latest piece, I attached a quick note, confessing that my ideas for topics were running a little dry, and if anyone had a suggestion, I'd gratefully accept it. My sister Kathy responded almost immediately with a long, really creative list (rest assured, you will be seeing her ideas implemented in several upcoming posts).

But there was one of Kathy's suggestions that I didn't quite understand at first glance. It simply read, "Your GPS." Now, Kathy knows that we have a GPS system in our car. Don't get me wrong, it's been a wonderful, handy tool to own, I love it! But why, I wondered, does Kathy believe that an electronic device mounted in my dashboard makes an interesting writing topic? Then it hit me. Kathy wasn't referring to my car's digital mapping system. She was talking about MY "internal" GPS. It's a fantastic idea, actually, because my internal GPS is seriously BROKEN. Always has been. My sweet sister, trying her very hardest not to sound insulting, wrote, "Your GPS," instead of, "Write about how you have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever and couldn't possibly find your way out of a paper bag!" That's probably how I would've put it, had the roles been reversed!

I don't even know how to begin to describe my direction ineptness. I absolutely despise the "traffic reporter" that broadcasts over my radio in the middle of rush hour, who spends about seven seconds telling me about the 900 accidents that have occurred that morning. Mr. Speedy-Talker then informs me about all the "huge back-ups," and the better, quicker routes to take. By the time I'm able to mentally locate the first intersection mentioned and figure out it's relation to where I am, I've completely missed what has happened there and all the information about ways to avoid it. I scream at my radio "SLOW DOWN!" or, "SAY IT AGAIN!!" That bastard never listens.

The city of Orlando, where I lived for sixteen years, is a fairly modern place with navigable highways and tourist-friendly, easy-to-understand signage. I got lost daily! I'd do great going from our house to work, but it was when I had to make stops in between those two places where I'd get all turned-around. Poor Alan just learned to live with the inevitable calls he'd receive from me saying, "OK, I'm at Whole Foods, I need to get to the pet store, do I get on I-4 for that?" Or, "Well, I was trying to get to the courthouse downtown and somehow I ended up in Fort Lauderdale. How do I get home?" To his credit, my sweet, kind husband has never, EVER said what most would remark at these moments. Things like, "Wow, you really are a big, dumb idiot, aren't you?" or "You're exhausting me! Can't I just put you in a Home somewhere?" No, my Sweetheart simply asks me to identify the nearest landmark, then verbally points me in the right direction. I really love that man!!

You can imagine Alan's response when we purchased our new car a few years back, and the dealer inquired if we would like to include the new GPS system in our package. I hesitated, thinking it seemed like an awfully extravagant electronic toy. If I remember correctly, Alan said something along the lines of, "YES, YES, OH DEAR GOD, YES!!! Install the GPS! I don't care how much it costs!!"

The really comforting part of my handicap is that my sister, Laura, is just as directionally challenged as I am. When we were teens, we'd leave together on a shopping trip, get involved in a deep conversation as we drove along, then suddenly snap back into reality. We'd inevitably look around at our unfamiliar surroundings and then exclaim, "Hey, who moved the mall?"

The best example of our busted internal GPS came when Laura and I were in high school and were asked to perform our "Honey Bun" dance routine on the local TV talent showcase, "The Gene Carroll Show." Gene was Cleveland's very own version of Ed Sullivan, and he hosted a weekly Sunday morning program showcasing all the local "talent" in the Cleveland area. The shows were taped in downtown Cleveland during the week, then broadcast that Sunday. Our dance teacher got Laura and I the gig, but told us she wouldn't be able to take us to the taping, could we get there on our own? NO PROBLEM!! We were sixteen and seventeen, practically grown adults, for crying out loud! Of COURSE we could drive the twenty miles to downtown Cleveland, piece of cake!!

I need to pause this story here to explain something about my father. Dad was/is the biggest Nervous Nellie on the planet. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a quiet, suburban neighborhood in a place called Sagamore Hills. The crime rate was literally non-existent on my street, yet he was convinced that all five of his children would be stabbed, raped, kidnapped, and/or impregnated by the time we each reached the age of twelve. The summer before my sophmore year of college, a few of my female classmates asked if I wanted to skip living in a dorm the following year and get an apartment with them near the theater building. When I approached Dad with the idea, his response was short and sweet: "You'll get raped." Apparently, the "rapage" factor was way higher when you lived in an apartment with four girlfriends instead of a co-ed dorm on campus. Guess where I stayed all four years of college? (Hint: It wasn't in the apartment with my girlfriends!)

So, it goes without saying that even though the exciting, vibrant city of Cleveland was only a mere twenty-five minutes away, the Donnelly children rarely saw it, because my father forbade it. When we became interested in theater and the touring companies of "A Chorus Line" and "Annie" came through town, my mother gave-in to our pleading and agreed to take us, but not to the evening performances. Mom wrote a note to our teachers saying we had dental appointments, got us excused early from school, and we attended the Wednesday afternoon matinees. This, it was apparently determined, was the time of day when downtown Cleveland was much less "rapey."

So, having never really been to the area, Laura and I basically had no idea what route to take to get to our Gene Carroll Show taping. However, mom gave us a map (actually, it was more like a world atlas. Picture a globe, only in book form. In Mom's defense, it did have a "Northeast Ohio" page). We also decided to take a male with us to, you know, fight off all the rapists and such. I had just started dating Alan, so we asked him to come with us. That's right, Alan. Alan, the Alabama boy who had been living in the state of Ohio for all of three months. That Alan. (Seriously, what could go wrong?)

So we actually made it to the taping (Praise God!) with no problems. We arrived at the studio, executed our routine with flawless , sailor-suited perfection and were an immediate, enormous hit. The evening was a complete success! Until...

When we left the TV studio, we immediately noticed that it had gotten really dark. No problem, we thought, we had our trusty atlas. We began our journey home, talking excitedly about the obvious "nailing" of our performance and of our impatience to actually see ourselves on TV. Suddenly, though, things began to look unfamiliar. Alan, who was driving, asked us to consult the globe. Laura and I studied the map and determined that yes, we were definitely headed in the right direction. It was a full thirty or so miles later, when we started seeing signs for Ashtabula, that Alan stopped the car and grabbed the map from us. Apparently, Laura and I had mixed-up the whole east/west thing, and when we told Alan we were definitely headed west, we were, in fact, headed east. We were also out of gas. We rolled into a gas station and called Alan's dad, who told us to just stay put, drove out to meet us, filled our tank and had us follow him home.

Laura and I were sure our father would be fit to be tied when we finally arrived home. I can honestly tell you that I don't have the slightest recollection of what played-out when we walked through our front door late that night. They say that people who undergo traumatic events are often unable to recall that experience after they recover. They say the mind acts as a kind of buffer to allow peaceful healing. Perhaps this is what happened to my memory of that night. I guess we'll never know. I DO remember, however, very vividly, the next morning when Laura and I came drowsily down to the breakfast table, prepared for an intense fatherly tongue-lashing. Dad looked up from his newspaper, turned to my mother and said, "Hey, look who's here. It's Louis and Clark!"

Thanks for reading!! (And thanks, Kathy!!)


Sheila Clark said...

Joan, You sound just like me! I have absolutely NO sense of direction! There is an up side though, we get to see things we might never have seen had we not gotten lost.....

Unknown said...

This was GREAT! I had no idea Dad made that crack about Louis and Clark. So funny!!! I forgot all about Gene Carroll too. :)

Jen Taft said...

I seem to remember when the phonecall came to the house Dad used some very colorful adjectives for Ashtabula. For years after that, whenever I would be driving west into Ohio and see a sign for Ashtabula (very close to the PA border), I'd have to smile. Dad may have been overprotective, but Grandma Simmons's endless warnings still have me checking the backseat of my car and keeping rope out of my children's hands.

Anonymous said...

I was just trolling info on GPS and chanced upon your blog. This was too hysterical not to comment and let you know that I got a huge laugh out of this whole post!

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