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The Long and Winding Road

The problem isn't that men won't ask for directions, contends Burt Prelutsky. It's that nobody knows how to give them. [MP3 of Burt reading this story]

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June 28, 2007 - 5:44 am

It is a conceit of women that men, silly know-it-alls that they believe we are, never ask for directions.

I happen to know that’s untrue. I know it because I always ask for directions, even though I often live to regret it. The problem, as I’ve discovered, isn’t that men don’t know how to ask for directions, it’s that hardly anybody knows how to give them.

For instance, a few years ago, my wife and I celebrated one of my birthdays by taking a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. Our plane landed in Newark, where I picked up a rental car, and because a friend had insisted that we take the long way around by driving up the east side of the Hudson before heading west to our final destination, I wound up with only a vague notion of where Cooperstown was in relation to Newark.

On our last morning at the hotel, as we sat having breakfast with the other guests, I asked them for the most direct route back to Newark. Most of them were from the general area. One couple was from Philadelphia, another from Buffalo, another from New York City. Along with our hostess, they pretty much agreed on the route. When I asked the group how long the drive should take, their estimates ranged from two to two and a half hours. The hostess suggested that before we hit the road, we pay a visit to a local tourist attraction, a farm in which all the tools and buildings are as they would have been back in the 1800s.

Knowing that we had plenty of time, we made the detour. After about an hour, I asked the locals who worked at the farm if I had been given good directions. They agreed I had, but one of the fellows said he could save me a little time during the first leg of the trip. He explained it would get me to the highway without my having to drive back through town.

I asked him how long this leg was. He said it was five miles. Actually, it was 17 miles. Offhand, that doesn’t sound like much. But if you asked someone how long a drive it is from L.A. to Chicago and they told you it was 600 miles and you found out the hard way that it’s actually 2,000 miles, wouldn’t you feel silly? Did I mention they were doing roadwork on this particular stretch? But at least once we reached the highway, it was pretty much clear sailing down to Newark. The only problem is that unless you’re in a vehicle equipped with wings, it doesn’t take two hours to get to Newark, it takes about five — and that’s on a nice clear day on the turnpike! In case of bad weather, I suspect that people simply take it as a sign from God, and settle down in Cooperstown.

Once, many years ago, I was invited to address a group in a nearby community. The lady who was in charge gave me my directions. There was only one problem. After getting off the freeway, she had said I should make a left turn until I got to a certain street and then turn right. Naturally, I assumed that after getting off the freeway, I would come to that cross street within, say, a mile. After I’d driven about seven or eight miles, I

began to worry that I had missed it. I had to keep fighting the urge to turn around and retrace my route. I finally found the street, 15 miles from the freeway exit! Now wouldn’t you think that a person giving directions might have said, “Oh, by the way, after you make that left turn, you’re going to have to drive for 15 more lousy miles”?!

Yesterday, I had to drive to a town about 35 miles away, a town I was completely unfamiliar with. Thanks to MapQuest, I had my directions, and I left plenty of time, as is my wont. However, the freeway I was on suddenly turned into a parking lot. As soon as I could, I got on to surface streets. I thought I couldn’t be too far away from my destination, but I knew I would have to stop and ask a local how to find my way.

I got lucky. The first fellow I asked gave me very clear directions. He explained the route and assured me I was within five miles of my goal. So, after I’d gone 10 miles

I figured I better stop and ask someone else. Again, I was lucky. This fellow assured me I was headed in the right direction, and told me that when I reached a certain street, I should turn left. Dreading the answer, I asked him how far I had to go. Naturally, he said it was five miles. But he fooled me. It really was five miles. The only glitch was that after turning left, I discovered that I should have turned right.

These days, MapQuest prevents most of these headaches. The drawback is that it treats you like a blithering idiot. We happen to live in a corner house. Now, I ask you, must MapQuest begin each and every set of directions with: Drive 20 Feet to Hayvenhurst? I think you’d all agree, that’s just being plain obnoxious.

Frankly, I’m rather surprised it doesn’t suggest that I begin by turning on the ignition and stepping on the gas. I suppose I should be grateful that it doesn’t come right out and say: Drive 20 Feet to Hayvenhurst, You Big Dummy.

Anyway, ladies, I hope you now understand that if men are reluctant to ask for
directions, it’s not because we’re too stubborn or too proud, but because we’ve decided we’re quite capable of getting lost without any help at all.


Television writer Burt Prelutsky is the author of %%AMAZON=1581825714 ‘Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco (101 Reasons Why I’m Happy I Left the Left)’%%

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