The Three Types Of Directions


Do you ever ask people for directions anymore? Or do you prefer to ask them, “What’s the address?” and just plug it into your smartphone instead? Because that’s what I do.

Maybe you’re like me and you like to see where you are on a map, even if it’s on a phone. Or maybe you trust almost no one to give good directions to any location anymore—especially if it’s their own house.

There are three types of direction-givers*, and only one is reliable.

1. The Pro
The Pro gives you directions like Google Maps gives you directions, sometimes using Google Maps to give you exact distances. They don’t say things like “take the Speer exit” or “you’ll go through 6 or 8 stoplights”; no, they say things like “take exit 141 and get in the left lane immediately,” and “turn east onto 17th Avenue.” This person has empathy, knows how to follow directions, and wants to minimize your suffering and freaking out when you’re trying to find their house. They’ll probably be standing out front waiting for you to drive up, especially if their address number is a little hard to spot, because they know when you’re driving, your friend is easier to recognize than a tiny house number.

2. The Tour Guide
This person is great at describing their neighborhood, but shitty at helping you find anything. They provide a narrative instead of technical instructions. They get you lost. They say things like, “… then you’ll drive by the park, and my favorite barbecue place, and the cathedral…” and “you’ll see Jonesy’s, and we should really eat there some night when you’re here, you’d love it.” They sometimes reference things that don’t exist anymore, or the colloquial name of something—”the old Macy’s building” (which doesn’t have a sign designating it as such anymore), or “Punchy’s,” which is the name of a liquor store that has a sign that says “Liquor Store” in big letters and “Punchy’s” in very small letters. When you are on the phone with The Tour Guide and trying to write down useful information, you write down things like “drive past Punchy’s,” “cathedral,” “barbecue,” and then you hang up the phone and read what you’ve written, and say Goddammit, Bob, how the hell am I supposed to make any sense of this? When you are driving and get close, but lost, you will call Bob on your cell phone to try to get better directions—perhaps right around the time you pass Punchy’s Liquor Store and its invisible sign.

3. The Landmark Navigator
This is your friend who has no idea what any of the streets in their neighborhood are named, but instead guides you to their house using only landmarks, which are helpful when walking, but horrible when driving at speeds faster than 10 mph. From the interstate, your friend says, “after you see the AT&T building, take the first exit,” and then things like “you’ll be diagonal from a gas station—take a left there.” Then the always useful “you’ll pass a McDonald’s and then a pawn shop, just keep going straight.”

Ever notice that your GPS/Yahoo Maps/Google Maps never says anything like “continue driving straight, even as you pass the McDonald’s”? Uh huh. And then something indistinct like “our house is the one with the big lawn” or “our building is the one with the azaleas out front.” When you manage to get into the neighborhood, you’re all like “OK, there’s a big lawn, but that other one has a pretty big lawn too …” or “Shit, what do azaleas look like?” And then you call your friend because you don’t want to park and walk up to the front door of the wrong building/house.

You know when your friend tries to give you directions to their house and ends the directions with, “You can’t miss it”? Yeah. Guess what, you’re going to miss it. You know why your friend never misses it? They live there. They can find it in the dark after drinking eight beers at the neighbor’s place down the street. You have never seen it before, which makes it easier to miss. It’s a house surrounded by other houses, which are usually quite similar, unless your friend lives in a teepee or a castle.

*not a scientifically proven statement


14 replies on “The Three Types Of Directions

  • Jillian

    I’d just like to say that my GPS is a bad combination of all three of these. So far in it’s short life it has told me to drive across a few lakes, drive up a ski mountain in a snowstorm, take a few dozen Class VI roads (you need a Jeep with psycho suspension, not my Ford Focus sedan), make several hard lefts in the middle of highways, and asked me to spend several hours making illegal u-turns (effectively giant circles) in NJ. Technology isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

    So the question is… what type of direction giver are you?

  • Tiffany

    I’m #1 too. I even type up directions, save them as a doc and then just email them when needed. It’s really quite obnoxious.

  • KJA

    I’m with Jillian, after GPS told me to continue straight…I was at a dead end road staring at a lake. Oh yeah, that’s an awesome idea.

  • Alan

    I once gave my brother directions to my new house (in England) including “leave the motorway at the blue pyramid”. He drove all the way wondering how he was going to read the name of a pub from the freeway; little did he know there was an actual honest-to-goodness blue glass pyramid, about a hundred feet high, right at the turn-off for my house.

  • Eric O'Rafferty

    I’m number 3 for sure. I can get anywhere, once I’ve been there one time (even years later), but can’t describe how I did it for beans. I like to say, I “feel” my way, one visual memory triggering the next.

    Once, when I was a teen in Massachusetts, some guy pulled up and asked for directions. I started attempting describe the route (especially challenging in New England where what was once a cow path 400 years ago has gradually been updated by multiple committees over the years into something sorta, kinda resembling a superhighway). Anyway, before I could even finish, the guy just drove off without a word!

    Now, you’ve got to remember that this was rough and tumble working class central Massachusetts. Many of the people you’d deal with bore a striking resemblance to the way characters carried themselves in Marty’s The Departed. So I was lucky I didn’t get a head punch!

  • nathalie

    I don’t understand how this post doesn’t have a trillion comments. This is pure radness. I couldn’t pick which of your books I wanted to read first, so I ordered two. 🙂

  • Aleksey

    I am definitely #1, as I give detailed street-by-street directions. But I drop in some highlights and additional details (landmarks) to make sure that the person feels comfortable driving on the way.

Comments are closed.