Navigating like a Native

“See, you go left at the old gas station, but now it’s a tanning salon …”

When I first moved to Bethlehem, PA, I constantly found myself lost. Although the city is well-laid out, a combination of my poor sense of direction and my fear of never finding my way home again meant I was not at all adventurous.

Unfortunately, that meant that when I wanted to go someplace new, I had to rely on my friends and neighbors for directions. This, I soon found out, was a mistake.

Once, when asking my friend where her church was located, she said: “Oh, it’s just off of Freemansburg Avenue. You hang a left where the old hardware store used to be, and it’s right there on the right.”

I stared at her blankly. “The old hardware store?” I asked.

“You know, the one that burned five years ago? Turn left there.”

I had moved to the area three months before, so naturally I had no idea where the old hardware store used to be when I was still in college in another state. Wanting to keep my friendship, I bit my tongue and nodded as though I understood. I didn’t really want to visit her church anyway, but if I did, I supposed I could Google it.

It didn’t take me long to learn that everyone in town gave directions exactly the same way.

The grocery store was just around the corner from the old Young’s Pharmacy, which was bought out by a chain in ’99, but is now just an empty storefront. The park with the really great slides was only a five minute drive, if you drove past the housing development on what used to be Old Man Farmer’s field, then hung a right at the restaurant that used to be Mel’s House of Chicken.

Got it. Thanks.

It took me a solid three years to get a handle where the heck I was, but now I’m fairly adept at navigating around the area.

So I was shocked to hear myself giving directions to a new friend last week. She’s a New York City transplant, and has only been here for five months. She was wondering where my young mothers’ group meets, and I was trying to explain the location of the building to her.

“It’s on Broad Street, just down the block from that restaurant that used to be Java Junction,” I said.

She cocked her head.

“You know, just down the street from where Basillio’s used to be? Oh wait, you weren’t here when Basillio’s was open.” I sighed, realizing I was giving directions like a native. “Do you know where the big ugly mirrored office building is? The one that used to have the orange stripes — oh wait, now they’re green. Do you know where that is? The church is right across the street!”

She smiled, nodding like she understood. I bet she Googles it later.

Article © 2009 by Stacey Duck