Getting there ... getting where? Whenever we drove out anywhereit was my job to read the map

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Life is easier with Google maps and GPS navigation, but occasionally I mourn the adrenalin rush of uncertainty about getting there. Wherever that is.

Occasionally, you ignore instructions - a road has been closed due to a flood, or you spot a road sign and confidently go in the direction indicated. Now you’re out of sync.

In years gone by, though it’s not impossible now - and recently I went to Whakatane from Tauranga by way of Lake Rototiti - getting lost was easier. I did it all the time. Yet, with my ex-husband, whenever we drove out anywhere, it was my job to read the map. Not what I requested: I prefer to be in the driving seat, and I knew where it would lead us. To an unknown destination.

I have never excelled at navigation. My twin brother got the compass when we were born, along with the violet eyes and curly hair – totally wasted on a boy. I say I got the wit and the charm, and sometimes I believe it.

I’m a person who can get lost in a supermarket. (“Turn left at the baked beans, madam, and then right at the deli counter.”)

An early memory is raiding my piggybank for the ninepence I needed to buy mum a Toby jug I'd spotted in the junk shop window. We were staying with Grandma, and the town was unfamiliar. But the shop was ‘just around the corner’ so I slipped out before breakfast with money in hand. I never did find the shop, and by then I couldn’t find Grandma’s house either. I was rescued and escorted home by a sniggering boy some years my junior, clutching the pennies I’d bribed him with.

“I’m back.” I yelled triumphantly. “Don’t worry, I’m home”.

Alas. No one had missed me.

Maps don’t help. I like them as artworks, especially those old maps on parchment with mermaids and ‘Here be dragons’ inscribed upon them. In a motoring guide, they wander randomly from page to page. Large-scale individual maps don’t fold easily when you’re on the move, blocking the windscreen and upsetting the driver, who blames you furiously when you miss the turn-off.

How I use maps to get from A to B is to set aside an hour or so to study all points between where I’m starting from and where I want to end up. I write them down in sequence. For example, going from Tauranga to Waihi the first time, I carefully noted, in big bold letters: Exit first L. Mansels Road/ drive to end - turn L. Fraser Street/ L. at Merivale traffic lights turn/ > Auckland signs to Waihi

Hey! it works for me.

Next month I’m supposed to be driving down to Wellington, and already my mind is exploring what can go wrong, especially on the desert road or in the hill forests. I’ll take my grandson with me, not to do the map-reading – though he’s shaping up nicely – but to be responsible for. To be the reason why I focus and get my mind round where I’m going, and how to get there without peril.

For part of me, I confess, likes to be lost.

Yes, sometimes my navigational incompetence drives me wild. That ongoing confusion in my brain between Te Puke and Te Puna, for example. Once I set off to visit my friend Sarah (in Te Puna) and ended up en route to Maketu (via Te Puke). To compound the error, in the midst of castigating myself for my folly, I saw a sign that said Te Puke Quarry Road. Immediately I translated this into Te Puna Quarry Road. Maybe I’ve got brain lesions, or a black hole in my psyche.

“Aha!” I said. (I wish I’d remember how often Aha! insight fails me.) Triumphantly I swung the car around to do a simple up and over, intending to get to Te Puna quarry and rediscover the road to Sarah’s house in Whakamarama.

The car was a Toyota Corona on loan from a friend and not favourable to such rough treatment as it got. For the road swooped skywards, narrowing and twisting until it evolved into a gravel road that beckoned me onwards to nowhere and beyond. Only if I reached the summit could I start to descend; and that seemed as far away as ever.

I comforted myself by noting that the mailboxes still displayed Bay of Plenty Times stickers. So I knew I hadn’t strayed too far from home. I was scared I’d be forced to brake hard on a bend or for an oncoming vehicle. Then I’d slide and skid and end up rolling over and over before I crashed down on a ponga tree or a tin-roofed shed, scattering the herds of emu and deer that grazed placidly in the paddocks below.

I fretted about the track petering out in Te Puke Quarry, that I’d find myself unable to go forward or back. I had no money with me for petrol, no EFTPOS card, no address or phone number for Sarah, no cardigan or blanket. If the day clouded over, if the petrol ran out, I’d be stranded overnight in some dark unknown, with no human contact or signs to guide me home.

Yes, there was a map in the glove compartment. Would I be forced to pull over and pull it out? Yet how could I work out a proper route to Sarah’s house or back home when I didn’t know where I was now?

And while this was festering away in the back of my mind, eyes and brain were saying, “It’s a holiday. Enjoy it.”

For I complain constantly that I don’t go sightseeing, that I rarely go out simply to enjoy our beautiful land. And here were rolling hills and lush foliage spread out for me alone: ferns, tui, sudden blazes of red and yellow blossom, and a late golden sun warming all with a rich haze.

The landscape unfolded like a series of abstract paintings hung on the wall of some select gallery, and me with a million-dollar cheque in my pocket, free to choose the one I’d take home and gloat over forever.

Whenever, however, I got there.


(954 words)

© Jenny Argante

Getting there ... getting where?

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Getting there ... getting where? Whenever we drove out anywhereit was my job to read the map by Tauranga Writers Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License