April 23, 2024 at 1:05 a.m.
Guest Columnist

Do I Look Like The Answer Woman?

I can’t say how many times strangers have asked me for directions

TAMMY WILSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Heading into church last week, was stopped by a stranger who asked if I knew where Ashure Ministry was.

In fact, I did. I’d written about it in my most recent column. It’s the new name of Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, on the south side of Newton.

The man didn’t know much about Newton at all. He kept asking if it’s beyond the sheriff’s office. Yes, I said, keep on going past the Burger King. Cross Highway 10, pass the school on your left and the American Legion on your right until you’re almost out of town.  

I did my best to direct him to the correct location.  But, like a native, I described the street as being where the old hospital is. It’s now the Ag Center, of course, and that didn’t occur to me that the new fire station on the corner. In my mind’s eye, the former ECCCM headquarters, which was once the nurses’ quarters for the hospital. I don’t remember when either was in operation, but I sound like I do.

I can’t say how many times strangers have asked me for directions—even in the age of Siri and cell phones. People still flag me down in airports, ticket lines, check-out lanes. Some say it’s because I look like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going.

Little do they know.

Years ago, while walking around the Lenoir-Rhyne campus, a car pulled to the curb. A passenger asked for directions. I don’t remember where, probably something in Viewmont. I probably said you can’t get there from here, which is mostly true. It was obvious they’d never set foot in Hickory, so it was quite a challenge to direct them through the scramble of streets.

I remember disorienting days when I was a newbie, fresh from the Midwest, where every street and country mile involves a ruler-straight throughfares and 90-degree angles. I had to learn the finer art of navigating by the sun or by the WHKY tower or, most perplexing, where something used to be.

After living here 45 years, my best advice for someone trying to find their way around is to get lost. Literally. Eventually you’ll figure out how seemingly disconnected streets and avenues eventually make sense, and how a crossroads you’ve never turned on will take you to a part of town you’ve never been.     

My “get lost” rule applies beyond the city limits. Many roads and highways were once wagon roads and before that, trading paths, and before that, wildlife trails.

A few years ago, I was stopped by a man in the Aldi parking lot. Unlike many looking to give you a quarter to use the shopping cart, this fellow needed directions to downtown Hickory.

Oh boy. I’m sure I told him to take the street out front there, through the big intersection, cross 70 and keep going until you get to an intersection for Tate Blvd. Turn left and go a few blocks.  Don’t ask me how many or what the streets are called. They all have number names.

How many stoplights? Beats me. Five? Six? There are too many layers of visual memory to sort them out on the spot.

I know as well as anyone how lame it is to give directions by where things used to be, but now I’ve adopted the same vague, provincial habit. For example, my mind’s eye, I still think of that odd elbow of a street that turns where the Fresh Air Market used to be, kitty cornered from Carlisle’s hobby shop and Berndt’s Army Navy. Everybody knows that street, don’t they? But don’t ask me what’s there now; I’d have to ask Siri.

Or, how about the tall bank building downtown. It’s Wells Fargo, I think. But it used to be First National, then First Union. Before that, the spot was Hotel Hickory. I’ve seen the implosion video from 1972.

Even in the age of Siri, people will stop me in in a mall or a store, asking where a certain department is within the store or a certain product within a department.

More than a few times, grocery shoppers ask me where to find certain products, or how to use a certain ingredient. As if I’m Ina Garten.

A few years ago in Oslo, I was approached on the street and asked for directions in Norwegian. Same thing happened in a German train station. On a London visit, a man in a suit stopped me and asked for directions to the Irish Embassy.

Unlike many tourists who dress in jogging suits, sneakers and ball caps, I did what I could to look like a local: black slacks, black blazer with a scarf and a nondescript shoulder bag. I resembled a Londoner, making me less of a target for pickpockets.

I’m sure that none of these people expected an American accent, but their asking told me I blended in. I appeared local enough, which can be a good thing, except when it comes to giving directions.

---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at  [email protected] 


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