A freewheeling weekend in Frisco

The Baltimore Sun

Many people will offhandedly say: "I have no sense of direction." But I, and the more than 7.5 Americans who suffer from Major Absence of Plotting Sensors (MAPS), will never joke about it. Except this once.

This is because MAPS is a socially embarrassing disorder. People with MAPS have no idea what it means to travel in a northeast direction; we prefer instructions that say "turn left at the Wendy's." If we exit a building using a different door from which we entered, we will have trouble finding the parking lot unless we retrace our steps to the original door. We think a portable GPS is hands-down the most romantic gift we might ever receive from our spouses.

Understandably, MAPS strikes frequently whenever its host travels. Just last weekend, I experienced a serious MAPS attack in San Francisco.

I was there to pick up my daughter after a summer dance program. My friend, Ellehcim Apapirav, whose name has been spelled backward for privacy, decided to accompany me to enjoy a "girls' weekend." After a long flight, Ellehcim and I hailed a cab so I could deliver a gargantuan, empty, electric-blue suitcase to my daughter, who needed to be packed and out of her dorm by early the next morning.

I should have known we were in for a Haight-Ashbury-type trip when the cab driver asked if I minded if he took the "freeway" to the dorm where I had dropped my daughter off four weeks ago.

"Let's just do whatever's faster," I replied. This is a classic sign of MAPS - sufferers have no idea that freeways are not used for intra-city transit.

Ellehcim came along, thinking it would be a brief side-trip before an afternoon of sightseeing, not the beginning of a remake of The Out-of-Towners.

"I don't remember this," I remarked in an upbeat tone as our cab sped along the freeway.

"It's probably a lot shorter," she replied in a happy-go-lucky manner.

Such was the character of our weekend: jolly with a smattering of carefree. We planned to walk in sensible shoes, eat between meals and see San Francisco in three short days. So we were not alarmed. Yet.

The meter climbed rapidly to $10, $15, then $20.

Just as Ellehcim pulled out the map from the hotel, we lurched to a stop. The meter read $28.

"Let's just get out of this cab," I said.

We walked up to a random dorm. "This isn't right," I said decisively.

Ellehcim said she thought I meant the dorm wasn't the "right" dorm. And in a way, she was absolutely correct.

Because we were not at the right dorm. We were not even at the right college. We were at San Francisco State University, about 30 minutes across town from the University of San Francisco.

We knew there was no "blending in" when a Polish exchange student immediately approached us and asked if he could help. We showed him our map.

"You're not even on this," he said.

Ellehcim is a good friend who pretty much adores public transportation, or so she insisted. So we called the transit people, who gave us a series of trains and buses to take to get to the University of San Francisco. We took turns lugging big blue around, falling into fits of laughter at one station where, after a series of 50 steep steps to what we thought was the exit, we turned a corner to find 50 more, and another set of 50 on the third turn.

"How are you liking San Francisco?" I panted when we finally reached the street level.

"I feel I'm seeing a lot more of San Francisco than I thought I would on this first day," she gasped jovially.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the correct university and dropped off the Blue Man suitcase.

Fortunately we had just enough time to return to our hotel and see a bit of San Francisco, through the windows of the happy hour bar.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com

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