In all my years of newspaper reporting, I’ve never gotten lost when trying to find people who live out in the back of beyond.
I can’t really say I was lost. I just couldn’t find the road and had to resort to calling the interviewee. Twice.
In the past, I’ve always stuck to one unbendable rule: follow the directions you’re given exactly. They may look weird and sound confusing, but if there’s one thing a person should be able to do, it’s give you directions to their own house.
When they say turn right at the third stump past the fence that’s falling down after the mailbox with the frog on top, do it. Don’t second guess; don’t say “this can’t be right,” because it always is. I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived and heard the interviewee say, with obvious surprise, “You made it!” I always complimented them on their wonderful directions.
I did sometimes ask them to edit those directions first, though.
They’d start out with, “You know where John Peterson’s old barn is?” Or, better yet, “You know where the old Horner school USED to be?” No, I’d tell them, I don’t. I wasn’t born and raised here. I don’t know where most of you live now, to say nothing of where someone used to live. Just start me off in town at someplace familiar, like the grocery store or the gas station.
We didn’t always agree on road names, either. They used local colloquial names, I called them by the names on the map. Big Noise Road or Wales Road was County 14 to me. If I suggested a numbered designation, I heard blank silence at the other end of the line.
But after those things were finally clarified, I was left with simply following the directions I was given, exactly as they were given. And it always worked.
So, my mistake yesterday was in not asking for directions. I simply asked for an address, and that’s all I got. She probably assumed I had a GPS, since so many people do these days. I don’t. I assumed I’d find the place using Google maps. I didn’t.
For one thing, I was in a totally unfamiliar area, two hours from where I live. The road was Camp 5, which should have been my first clue. Anything with “camp” in it is likely to be in the boonies. It was. Still, Google placed it on the map, and the directions seemed clear enough.
I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve been in an area quite this desolate. Thick woods right up to the county road, and tiny side roads that looked more like primitive driveways or well used deer paths. One of those tiny side roads should have been Camp 5, but it wasn’t. I had managed to get this woman’s phone number in the last of our emails–after asking for it more than once–so I finally broke down and called.
She verified what I already knew: I was way beyond where the road should have been. How could I have missed it?
“Well, I knocked the road sign down with my car, and it hasn’t been replaced,” she said. NOW she tells me this?
“Look for Quarry Road,” she went on to explain. “It goes to the right. To the left it’s Camp 5–but there’s no sign.”
OK, that makes all kinds of strange, stupid sense. With that knowledge, I was able to find the road.
“Follow that past the major intersection, and it will wind around a bit, and you’ll probably have to call me again,” she said.
Let me say right off that “major intersection” was two gravel roads with a stop sign and two houses. I pat myself on the back now for having identified it when I came to it but at the time I was more concerned that the addresses–fire numbers, actually–were going up and I hadn’t seen hers along the way. She was right. I had to call again.
She answered laughing–she was enjoying this, I’m sure–and then told me to watch for a curve in the road, a big stand of pines, a creek, a dirt road to ignore–and voila! The fire numbers were suddenly lower than hers and going up again, so I knew she was ahead somewhere.
She was. I turned onto the “driveway” and drove another mile or so down a two-track to a pretty little house at the very end. The interview went well, if longer than I had hoped, and then it was time to find my way back to the main road.
“Turn right, then left, then right again,” she said.
And that’s all it took. It sounds so simple when put that way. What a difference a road sign makes!