Unbalanced: How not to give directions

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

The guy was quite clear: It is next to the organic food store, he told me. Except it wasn’t. I walked through the small strip mall, looking for his shop. Not there.

Finally I called him back, told him where I was. Oh, says he, you went too far. It’s the previous driveway.

Yes, the two shops were back-to-back. But that’s not right next to. That’s an entirely different area.

If I sound a tad grumpy, it’s because I depend on people giving me decent directions. Otherwise, I’m just a poor, lost soul.

So here, for those trying to get their friends, relatives or customers from there to your place, is my what-not-to-say list of directions:

— Never, ever say “You can’t miss it.”

I can, I have, I will.

— Don’t say “before,” like “it’s before the statue of the purple cow.”

Before is never good. If I get to the purple cow I’ve obviously gone too far.

— Don’t reel off a list of street names without any identifying factors.

Have you seen street signs? They’re dinky. While your clueless driver is trying to read them, people are honking like mad, wondering why the stupid person in front of them is driving 5 mph.

— Don’ t say “about,” as in “it’s about 10 miles after the turn.”

One of my friend’s “about” was eight miles off. Hey, if you drive it every day, use that trip odometer thingie in your car and get the facts.

— Don’t give thousands of details.

Another friend reeled off the names of all the restaurants, stores and gas stations I would pass before getting to her street. All 46 of them. I really didn’t need to know all of them. A couple major ones would have been fine.

— Don’t assume your beleaguered driver is familiar with every school, church, bar and landmark in the city.

In South Bend, the big thing is to use churches as pointers, as in, “it’s across the street from St. Pius Church.” Hell if I know where St. Pius is.

— Finally, don’t ever ask me for directions.

At Notre Dame, when someone once asked me how to get to the bookstore, I pointed in a southerly direction and said, “See that student in the blue jacket? Ask him.”

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.