I text my brother from a rest area somewhere near Ithaca, NY that I’m on schedule to arrive at his new house by dinnertime. I’ve written out every turn once I get off I-90 in my notebook and have consulted it multiple times. I pride myself on navigating without the crutch of GPS. I never get lost. That’s what I tell anyone who will listen.
When planning the ride east a few weeks before, I ask my brother to crash at his new place in Western Massachusetts. He and his wife moved there a few months back and he’s started a new teaching job in the area. I’ve only seen the house on the realtor’s site. He texts me a few days later and asks if I know a woman named Rachel. She’s a fellow teacher in his district. They met via Zoom and she asked, noting his unusual surname, whether we were related. At first her name rings no bells, but then I ask if she’s married to Chris.
I met Chris through his brother Mike, who was dating my manager at Pearl Art & Craft in Chicago in 1997. We were all in the art/music scene around Wicker Park back then. Both brothers moved to the East Coast and got responsible adult-type jobs ages ago. I haven’t seen Chris in several years. I met Rachel only once, at their wedding near Buffalo eighteen years back. Now they’re awaiting my arrival at my brother’s place.
I know something’s off when I pass the first exit on the Mass Turnpike. Miles and miles crawl by with no way off, when I know I should be turning north. I text Boris to start eating without me. By the time I ascertain my actual location, I’m 30-40 miles off track.
There’s no cell reception in most of Western Massachusetts and nothing but winding two-lane country roads, so by the time I arrive, it’s two hours after my ETA. I catch up with Chris a few minutes before he and Rachel have to leave to relieve their babysitter. It’s the boonies, so they have a 45-minute drive and it’s nearing midnight.
Everybody has a laugh when I point out that there’s been an imposing portrait of Chris’s brother in Boris’s childhood bedroom for about twenty years. Now Mike lives a mile or two back on the same road as Boris. Maybe they’ll make friends.
On the way back home from visiting with my folks, I make plans to grab lunch with Gil in New Jersey, not far from his home. I’d thought that I’d be coming from Western Mass rather than Boston that morning, so Gil asks me to text when I hit the bridge formerly known as Tappan Zee. Trouble is that I wrote out directions from Boston. I end up at a weird alternate universe outpost called the Vince Lombardi Rest Area, which has every kind of junk food and souvenir, but no public wi-fi. Gil patiently waits the extra hour for me to blunder my way to the correct location and we have a nice lunch, followed by a visit to an art supply store.
As we eat, I wonder aloud whether the fact I got lost twice in one trip heralds a new phase in my life. Early onset Alzheimer’s, perhaps. Though, to my credit, in both instances, I was able to retrace my steps and see where I went wrong. My brother had teased me about not having a smartphone, but at no moment during either period of aimless wandering did the prospect of getting back to that nightmare cross my mind. I felt bad that I was keeping people waiting, but otherwise, I was pretty at peace not knowing where the hell I was.
I’m looking forward to when they take my license away, so automobile navigation will cease to be an issue. Then, the true wandering can begin.