Turn north, then find the sunspots

I’m becoming somewhat concerned over the increasing number of advertisements for electronic navigation systems offered as pricey options on luxury automobiles.

What’s happened to us, America? Did Daniel Boone need a pop-up navigation system to find his way through the woods? Did Stonewall Jackson need a 3-D map projection to find the enemy? Did Jimmy Hoffa need a Global Positioning System to find the Teamsters’ meetings?

I should say not – and neither do we.

We Americans come from rugged pioneer stock – as well as from, like, Norway and Hong Kong – and we don’t need a $3,500 electronic navigation system attached to a $65,000 SUV to tell us how to get to Chuck E. Cheese.

As my late father used to say: “(Haaaarrrumph!) All roads lead to somewhere if you just know how to get there…”

Admittedly, the 21st century has found many of us a little rusty on our basic orienteering skills, so here’s some advice if you want to get to where you’re going without installing the bridge of the USS Enterprise in your Volvo.

(Unless, of course, you’re having a problem with hostile submarines.)

Before undertaking a road trip to unfamiliar territory, always ask a neighbor or a guy where you work how to get there. It’s likely that they’ve been some places that you haven’t been and therefore might know how best to get where you’re going. Even if they don’t, they’ll try to be helpful and give you directions anyway. This is somewhat comforting.

If you don’t have any neighbors or co-workers, the next best navigational resource is the oil-stained map you’ve had in your glove compartment since 1983. It may not cover exactly where you’re trying to go, but it’ll be a good start. Then, when you run out of road map, you can stop at a service station and purchase a new map – possibly even including an irrelevant portion of the region you’re seeking – for roughly $8.95.

Sometimes a compass can help, providing you can handle concepts like north, south, east and west.

As my ex-wife explained to me on one recent search for the Cozy Diner in Chico, “I think it’s north of the East First Street exit – not that I know where north is…”

This is a common problem, but one that is easily remedied. Remember that north is in the direction of the north terrestrial pole of the earth and that the needle on your compass always points north no matter which way you turn.

(The other directions are down, left and right, respectively.)

Even if you don’t have a compass, you can find north by using your wristwatch, particularly if you have one with a movable bezel. A grizzled former Green Beret told me all you have to do is turn so the ’12’ on your watch is pointed at the sun (this doesn’t work as well at night) and then line up the watch hands so they point in the same direction and count backwards from three unless you’re south of the equator. Then you do something else, I think. Anyway, that’s north…

If none of these navigational techniques works for you, try falling back on the tried-and-true liquor store gambit – ask the guy at the liquor store how to reach your destination and, if he doesn’t know, buy a 12-pack and forget about the whole damned trip.

Works like a charm, amigos…

Originally published June 16, 2002