People are always asking me for directions.
My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.
Really. I kid you not.
Two previous generations of my family hail from New York and my sister was born in Brooklyn Heights. My brother and I were the only two schmucks born in Florida (and not even Miami!).
Since my grandparents had a summer home in Upstate NY, I’d been to the city often as a kid. One of my earliest childhood memories features a guy playing a piano in a store window as we walked down Broadway in the rain under black umbrellas.
In my 20s I’d trekked to the city a dozen times to visit friends in Brooklyn, so I knew how to get around on the subway and deal with cab drivers.
So years later on the Lexington Ave. Express train headed downtown when the blind guy asked for my help, he probably overheard me telling my wife which trains we needed to catch to get where we wanted to go.
Blind people have superhuman hearing.
He lightly grasped my elbow as the three of us wended our way through the packed station and out to E 45th. He was legit because he didn’t try to fondle me or my wife, and he didn’t pick our pockets. I was on alert the entire time. I’m no rube.
I thought it odd that he would choose a tourist for help instead of any number of natives, but he probably figured they would likely tell him where to stick his cane. (I know, unfair jab at New Yorkers.)
Growing up in tourist mecca St. Petersburg, Florida, we’d be playing in the street and tourists would stop (to keep from hitting us with their huge Buicks) to ask directions. I was never an asshole because I always provided honest directions. Some of my friends would give bogus routes, which I always considered an unnecessary and cruel trick. It was never very funny, either.
Throwing eggs at tourists was much funnier.
And then there was Paris last year.
We’d freshly arrived at the Gare du Nord. Standing in the middle of everything we were studying the Metro map to decide on the best route to Montmartre. An excited man and woman from New Orleans asked me where the nearest bathroom was. I’m sure it wasn’t my confidence (maybe my steel-eyed study of the map) that prompted them to approach us, but rather our puzzled English mutterings. I told them I wasn’t sure where the bathroom was, but I’d help find out.
We got separated from the couple, but my wife and I finally found the bathroom, which we really had no use for at that moment. I hoped the New Orleaneans found it; the woman looked about ready to piss herself.
And don’t all people from New Orleans speak French? Isn’t it a city ordinance? The couple didn’t fondle us or pick our pockets either. That was a plus.
The other day I was at the gas station checking my tire pressure when a late-model Cadillac pulled up next to me. The very chic 30-something Black couple within asked me the way to the Bass Pro Shop, which is an outdoor-enthusiasts’ superstore filled to the exposed beams with camoflage and fishing gear (and HIKING too, Lenore!).
I’m not big into wardrobe profiling, but these were the last people I would pick out of a crowd to be interested in the redneck heaven that is Bass Pro Shop. Maybe they were really into bow hunting or skeet shooting. Maybe fishing. I assume people are allowed to fish while wearing designer clothes and diamond studded eyeglasses. There’s also a gazillion-gallon fish tank at BPS with all kinds of big game fish swimming sadly around.
Maybe the chic couple were crazy about large captive fish.
Which all brings me to this: The funny thing is, even though I know exactly where I’d like to be in my life and career, I’m not sure how to get there.
But I’m not afraid to ask around for directions. People are so very helpful and they don’t mind a little fondling.