Summer Postcard: Mapping It Out

NEW YORK, N.Y.—At the start of this summer, waiting at a stoplight just a two minute drive from my house, my friend decided to quiz me. I was hoping for an easy pop quiz on inflation’s implications for 1990s Latin American economic policy or Plato’s theory of the Forms. But alas, no. He wanted to see if I knew what street we were on. It took me several guesses before he took pity on me (and by taking pity, I mean mercilessly roasting me for having lived in the same house for seventeen years and still not knowing a road three blocks away).

I am, in the words of my long-suffering friends, “navigationally challenged.” My sense of direction (or lack thereof) has become a running joke over the years, as I struggle to travel from point A to point B, even if point B is just a five minute stroll away. I take wrong turns that others wouldn’t even know existed, walk in circles, and often end up further away from my destination than I was when I set out.

Though I remain convinced that I have some genetic inability to interpret maps, the extent of my navigational failure cannot be explained without acknowledging my own faults. I wander about with my head in the clouds. My mother always calls me a “space cadet”—although I doubt I would last long in space without Google Maps to tell me if I’ve accidentally veered into the asteroid belt.

Momentarily forgetting my exceptional gift for not knowing my left from my right, I decided that it would be a great idea to move to New York City for the summer. The subway system became my personal nightmare. In one particularly embarrassing episode, I struggled to find the Empire State Building on my first day of work. I still don’t know how I managed that one.

When I told my friends from back home about my misadventures, they very sympathetically informed me that I was an absolute idiot. New York City is literally a grid system. If cereal boxes had the New York City map on them rather than mazes, kindergarteners would complain it was too easy to solve. And yet here I was, technically a legal adult, struggling to understand that there are multiple subway stops on 34th Street. I think there are multiple stops, anyway. I’m really not the person to be asked about this.

But, as much to my surprise as anyone else’s, I have gotten better. My rate of getting on the wrong subway has dropped to an impressive one time per week. New York has forced me to pay attention to street signs and subway schedules, breaking through my daze of absent-minded musings. Brightly colored murals, eccentrically dressed pedestrians, and adorably small dogs suddenly appear where once they were blurred out by my daydreams.

Heading home from work the other day, a tourist stopped me in the subway station. “Uptown?” she asked, gesturing at the various signs in obvious confusion. And to my total shock, I instantly knew the way for her to go. Pointing her in the right direction, I felt oddly vindicated. Of course, a few days later I got on the wrong line again, finding myself trapped in a subway car filled with rowdy elementary school baseball players as I was whisked away to the outskirts of Queens. But for a moment, I was not the most lost person in all of Manhattan. Slowly, I was finding my way.

Jenna M. Wong ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Kirkland House.

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