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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.

 

 

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Jim Simpson JIM SIMPSON is an award-winning fiction writer and freelance music critic. A native of the wilds of Florida's Gulf Coast, he now resides on the scruffy fringes of Atlanta, Georgia.

He frequently writes about music, with his taste spanning all genres: Bluegrass, Americana, Classic Country, Alternative Country, Western Swing, Blues, Classical, Rock 'n' Roll, Punk, Reggae, Klezmer, and British Isles Folk (to name but a few).

He once sang Happy Birthday (with about 10,000 other people) to Joni Mitchell, and has seen such legends as Miles Davis, The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Rockpile, Blue Rodeo, King Sunny Ade, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M., Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan live in concert. He has interviewed such musical luminaries as Those Darlins, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, Marshall Chapman, Charlie Louvin, Derek Hoke, Jim Avett, the Secret Sisters, and Meghan McCormick.

Jim has been at work on his first novel for longer than he originally planned, and if all goes well it should be in bookstores sometime before his death.

One response to “You Can’t Get There From Here. Or Can You?”

  1. Jim Simpson says:

    Original comments:

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2009-02-22 11:54:59

    I would definitely use direction-asking as an excuse to cop a feel. It’s like a free pass.

    When I used to wait tables in HS, I always found evil joy in patting tourists on the back “Hello!” when I saw how very brutally sunburnt they were.

    Comment by Lenore
    2009-02-22 12:06:46

    i’m glad you’re aware of the frotteurs out there. it makes me happy that this possibility crossed your mind before thieving did.

    i think people ask you for directions cause you look like a nice dude. they have no idea that you are secretly waiting for them to molest you. except for the blind people. they can’t see you so they don’t know if you look like a nice dude or not. but they probably know that you are suspicious of their intentions cause of their blind person superpowers.

    and all that hiking gear gets purchased and shoved in a garage. never used. price tags rarely removed. promise.

    if i were blind i would use my superpowers to guilt you into doing everything for me.

    Comment by Jim
    2009-02-22 12:58:03

    Holy crap, Lenore, are you into Frotteurism? I had to Google it to learn what the hell that is! I’d let you frotteur against me any time. There should be a band called The Frotteurs — oh wait, there is!

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Frotteurs/6476207028

    Comment by James D. Irwin
    2009-02-25 04:13:20

    I wrote a story about a fictional band, a parody of progressive rock, which featured a hit album entitled ‘Frottage Pie.’

    Apparently overcrowding on public transport means frottage is becoming more common— and easier to commit.

    If I were lost I’d probably ask you for directions. You do look sort of approachable. I guess what I’m really saying is ‘you don’t look like a rapist/killer/religious crazy.’

    Of course if we went down the road of formal introductions I’d probably freak out and believe I was hallucinating.

    Comment by Autumn Kindelspire
    2009-02-22 14:30:24

    You, Kimberly, and I all hail from Pinellas County. Mad world, huh?

    People always ask my fiance for directions. We weren’t even living in New York yet, just visiting to shop for an apartment, and people stopped him on the street to ask for directions.

    I think some people just look like they have their shit together, no matter where they are.

    Comment by Jim
    2009-02-22 15:04:20

    And we all left Pinellas Co. Strange.

    Seriously, people stop me all the time. Like I know what I’m doing. If they only knew.

    We’re taking the kids to visit the grandparents in April. I’ll give the full Pinellas report.

    Comment by Autumn Kindelspire
    2009-02-25 05:12:26

    Please do!

    (Comments wont nest below this level)

    Comment by Dan
    2009-02-22 15:01:04

    A woman asked me for directions while I was running the other night. I was standing at the corner of a busy intersection, hands on my head, catching my breath and waiting for the light to change, when all of a sudden I hear someone shouting, “Hey! Hey you in the green jacket!” As far as I knew, I was the only person in the vicinity wearing a reflective neon green jacket (which I wear both for safety’s sake and to give passersby a good reason to openly laugh at me), so I turned toward the voice. The woman was in a car stopped at the light, and she wanted to know where the nearest Target was. Luckily for me, the nearest Target was about a quarter of a mile down the road. I think that was the first time that anyone’s ever asked me for directions and I actually knew how to get them where they wanted to go.

    Comment by Erika Rae
    2009-02-22 17:51:18

    There’s a reason I don’t wear a watch. I am boycotting time.

    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-02-22 19:36:35

    I can never remember whether to shit or wind my watch. Usually, I just shit on my watch. (Thank you Mr. Carlin, wherever you are.)

    Comment by amanda
    2009-02-23 07:05:30

    As a woman who still requires a cue-card of handwritten notes my mother prepared, in order to navigate the trip to my parents’ house (not my childhood home, but one they have occupied for 9 years, so it’s hardly “the new place”), I must confess that being asked for directions is the sincerest form of flattery.

    More than “hey baby, nice ass!” or “you look super-smart in those librarian glasses!”, I am instantly wooed by someone stopping to ask me how to get where they’re going.

    : )

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-03-01 02:24:34

    James,
    This reminds me of a joke:
    A tourist is asking a New Yorker for directions. He says: “Can you tell me how to get to The Statue of Liberty, or should I just fuck myself?”

    I get lost everywhere, but I can always find a bathroom.

    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-03-02 07:01:05

    Yeah, I can usually sniff out a bathroom — public toilets are so scrumtrulescent! Thanks for the joke. Good night, Irene.

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