Navigation

by Alissa

Today, as on most days I attempt to drive to the far end of town, I took a wrong turn. Everything in the back seat was going so well I decided to keep driving, sneak through a neighbourhood, and maybe come out on the intended road. Stopping usually results in nerve shattering baby angst, and she was so peaceful back there, and I had a vague sense of knowing where I was… But the neighbourhood was full of curves and hills and dead-end streets, and the road I wanted didn’t appear where I thought it might. After my mother got queasy up front, and we started going uphill again, I pulled over to figure out where we were.

I don’t have a GPS device. I decided four moves ago that I wanted to keep my mental powers of navigation intact instead of becoming dependent on a machine, and so I’ve worked with hand drawn maps and looking google maps on the computer before leaving the house. Most of the time I drive to the same three places, and then, not often. Ace has been gone for a month now for work, and I still have almost half a tank of gas. But with my mother in town, we’ve been wandering further afield. Almost every other trip, I have to pull over and pinpoint our location on the map.

This time, I couldn’t find the directions list, and then I ended up accepting some terms about using the google navigation system at my own risk before I could find us on the backstreets of Charlestown and search for our destination: Bibina–the international grocery in Warners Bay. I handed the phone to my mother so she could talk me through the map, and the phone spoke in her hand. We both startled.

“In 300 meters, turn left on Trent Street.” The phone has a raspy monotone–like a chain-smoking computer. We turned left on cue. And right. And right back the way  I’d come from. “Turn right on Waratah,” it said. For a brief moment I smirked at a mispronunciation that I know better than to make–it’s WAR a tah, not Wa RA tah. I’ve learned so much in my 22 months in Newcastle. The road veered. I turned right into a dead end. “Make a U turn,” the voice said, already cognizant of my error, before I could even see the end of the cul-de-sac. No lingual nuance, but still so much more knowledgeable than me. Ugh. After we were on the right road and I knew it, I just kept listening, and the phone just kept talking. The baby kept sleeping. We could make a good team.

At Bibina, mothership of food favourites from other lands, we gathered the necessary objects: Gruyere, ajvar, nuts, wattle seed (next foray into Australian flavours), Tasmanian leatherwood honey, stroop waffles. In the Euro aisle we came into a crowd of slow-moving elderly women, gathering their Senf und Gurken, gently pointing each other toward the cheeses from home. We moved slowly along with them, my mother and daughters and me, each of us looking for something familiar at the other end of the Earth, at the other end of the town.

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