These past years I’ve noticed how the giving of directions has evolved into something I knew existed in Europe but not so much in the United States. It causes me to remember a conversation or two with people over the years that have told me they can’t envision in their minds where they will be traveling. For example, Matthew can’t tell me in a relatively accurate and closest way, the directions and turns he will have to make while traveling from say a home in the northwest area of town to a business on the southeast side. Lindsay can’t see much ahead in time while traveling until she has arrived at a known corner or direction of which she must turn to travel farther to the next point and so on until she has arrived at the given destination. Rick who can travel in his mind from point A to point B correctly, but doesn’t remember the names of streets or the direction he is traveling. His internal “compass” directions are familiar landmarks and from those he either continues forward or turns right or left.

As a bit of a tease sometimes when out shopping at say a store that has clearly visible shelves with goods in prescribed bins, I’ll ask for something by name, and they’ll nearly always find it immediately, but if I say, “I would like one of those bagels in the third bin from the top on the far right. It is absolutely amazing how so often they will reach for something that sometimes isn’t even on the right side. They see the bins as clearly as I can without having to step back but for some reason it confuses them. When a stranger to the downtown asks about directions of an office, store, or even a public place, I find myself having to give them landmark directions instead of number of city blocks and compass directions.

I guess people have become more visual in their memories of places and how to get there, yet they forget about the grid that exists around them. Isles of a store are part of grids, streets and city blocks are part of a grid, even books and sheet music have grids. Books have pages, paragraphs and sentences, music has pages, lines, and measures, counties have townships, sections, and acres, and buildings have floors, halls, and rooms. It’s amazing to consider all of the grids we have surrounding us and we don’t even consider they’re there to be learned.

If the lights go out in a familiar building and we’re found to be in total darkness, could we manage to make our way out by remembering the grid of the building? Take that idea home with you and in total darkness, do you remember about how far and what direction each room is located as well as the number of steps there are to be tread going to your basement? When I worked in a very large office building long ago, I would sometimes go down to the lounge on break to grab a cup of coffee. One of the workers once asked me, “Joe, how is it you can so freely come down those steps when it is so dark in the stairwell? Why don’t you turn the light on?” I said, “It’s a waste of time because I learned there are 17 steps to be traveled from floor to floor.” Steps are part of the grid as well as the number of times the elevator beeps. Like on the sitcom Are You Being Served when the doorman says, “Third floor, millinery, dry goods, and ladies ready to wear.” He is one who fully understands the grid as well as the spatials.

Joe Chodur

About the Author | Joe Chodur

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