Angry tears kept falling and wouldn’t stop. It was just supposed to be a day trip to a wedding reception of a former student. Now, I was hopelessly lost in my car in the hills of Kentucky. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. I had a new car with GPS and a cell phone with Google maps, but some important little, expensive piece of the new car went out and I was in a rental car with no GPS. Then my phone crashed right as I crossed over the Ohio border, and I used the last 9% of my battery to locate a shady gas station to buy a charger.
“Do you have a bathroom,” I asked like a seven-year-old who drank too much soda.
“Not for the public,” said the large woman standing above and behind the counter in front of me.
“Can you give me directions to the nearest one?” I asked as politely and urgently as I could, “I am very lost and not from Kentucky. I am trying to find a wedding, and I have been driving for two hours.”
The woman judged me harshly up and down and decided that my strapless sundress, make-up, and rhinestone sandals confirmed my story. She nodded and said, “I can let you use ours, I guess. Come on before anyone else sees you.”
I rushed to follow the woman down a small hallway behind an automotive display rack, and she pointed to the last door.
“Thank you so much,” I started to say, but the lady was already gone. I opened the door quickly and promised myself to buy a charger immediately after using the bathroom. Thankfully, the bathroom as clean and I only hit my arms twice on the walls and doors as I tried to hold my long skirt up so it wouldn’t get wet in the toilet.
As I emerged from the bathroom, I could hear the large woman waiting on another customer. When she was free, I asked about phone chargers, and she pointed me to a rack with cords that almost touched the floor. There were three different types of chargers and all I knew was that I didn’t own an iPhone, so that eliminated one type of cord. I guessed, paid fifteen dollars, and said a silent prayer that the cord would work. It didn’t. Even after I went back in and bought another adapter for the port in my car, the phone wouldn’t charge. It kept flashing a yellow triangle with an exclamation point and a water droplet with the international symbol for “NO!”
I sat in the rental car and tried waiting for three different fifteen-minute intervals for the phone port and the port in the car to dry out. Nothing worked and the large woman came over to talk to me as she smoked a cigarette in front of the gas station. Between puffs of her menthol cigarette, she said she had no idea what country club I was trying to get to. So, I decided to try to get directions from the liquor store up the hill. I could see it from the gas station which made me feel like I didn’t have to worry about getting even more lost.
The woman behind the Lick Her Liquor store counter admitted she wasn’t from Kentucky, but offered me directions off of her phone. While I was standing there, she waited on a guy buying two twelve packs of beer who asked what I was looking for. She told him about my wedding reception dilemma, and he chuckled and said that I could just use three different streets, take a round-about way through a small area, and I would be right there. Funny enough, he never addressed me directly. He said all of this while standing less than six feet from me and making eye contact with only the woman selling him his beer. I, admittedly, stared at him for the last two minutes of his conversation just to see if he would even acknowledge me, but he didn’t. The woman watched him leave and then stood on her tiptoes to watch him get in his truck and blaze off into the hilly sunset of this Kentucky Saturday night.
I thanked the woman for the directions and headed back out to my car. I started following the directions and about ten minutes into the drive I noticed that there were not street signs on the crossroads in this section of Kentucky. The directions I had written on the brown paper sack focused on street signs and there were none to be seen. The street I needed was supposed to be to the northwest and I drove for about ten minutes and never saw a sign or indication of the road I needed. Then, I headed back and tried turning onto the only road I could have turned on. It became a hilly adventure of beautiful homes, broken down farmhouses, and even a roadside bar. After passing the roadside bar multiple times, I decided it was time to ask for new directions. I ripped the paper sack in two and walked into the bar. I slightly smiled as I thought about how this situation sounded like the opening of a joke.
When I opened the bar door, I noticed the people were sitting socially distanced, wearing no masks, and judging me the second I walked in.
“Can I help you, honey?” the girl much younger than me asked.
“I am trying to find Ryland Heights,” I said as all eyes in the dimly lit bar stared at me, “I am trying to find a wedding reception.”
“I’m not from Kentucky,” said one guy who winked at me from under his Cincinnati ball cap.
“I am terrible with directions,” said another guy in the back.
“Yes, you are,” said the woman sitting with him. She laughed loudly as she took a drink from the bottle in front of her.
A man from about the middle of the bar rose and started walking toward me with no words and I immediately looked to see how far I was away from the door.
“Here…” he said meekly, “I looked it up.”
He showed me another Google map and I started writing down the directions with miles this time to help with any road sign confusion. I thanked him, refused his drink offer politely, and hurried back out to my car.
The first right turn was supposed to be in a mile and a half. However, there was no street at that point. In fact, there was not a right turn for almost four miles. This was becoming hopeless. I checked the clock. The wedding reception was supposed to start about 5:30 and it was 6:15 and I was in no way closer to the reception or knowing where I was. Plus, my phone was still not charging, and I wasn’t even sure I could find my way back to the highway to get home at this point. However, I had been driving since 2 p.m. this afternoon and I was not about to give up.
Then after another thirty minutes of fruitless driving, no street signs, no good luck, and no leads as to where I was, I pulled into a corner market that looked like it had been there for the last fifty years. I walked in completely defeated and asked the guy behind this counter if he knew how to get to Ryland Heights.
“I am not from this country. I just came to America,” he said with apologetic eyes. “I just know how to get to work. We opened two days ago.”
I smiled and started to walk away, but then he offered me his phone with more Google directions. I tore the paper bag one more time and proceeded to scribble down this final set of directions. If these didn’t work, I would have to make my way north, find Cincinnati, and then get on I-75 to head home. These directions had to work. It was now after 7.
That is when the angry tears began to fall. I had started my car and they filled my eyes. This shouldn’t be happening. My new car had GPS and I had used it multiple times. I also had no idea why my phone died. I always charged it regularly and usually had a cord with me. My sixteen-year-old daughter was supposed to be my date, but she bailed to spend the night with friends. She would have had a spare phone and probably a phone cord. Additionally, I would have used the GPA in my new car and didn’t realize the rental didn’t have GPS until the 9% showed up on my phone. There were so many reasons why this situation shouldn’t be happening, but it was and here I sat. I was alone in a rental car with terrible radio reception, no concrete directions, no way to talk to anyone I knew, and one last chance to find this reception for a student I taught whose mother taught with me at the same school. I had been so excited and now I was simply desperate to find people I knew.
I listened to the gravel crunch under my tires and headed out for one more attempt. I zigzagged up and down large hills and made sharp turns left and followed gradual curves to the left, but again there were no roads where they were supposed to be and no road signs which complicated this last attempt like all of the others. I stopped my car and started to turn around in a driveway. I came to a dead stop when I saw a silver spoon half covered by the dirt in the path.
“A spoon?” I said to no one but myself, “I have heard of a fork in the road, but never a spoon.”
I held the wheel as it rotated back around, and the car faced my original direction once more. The direction on the dashboard readout said north and I took that as my final moment of defeat.
“I’m going home,” I said completely deflated. I was going to miss the wedding reception and the chance to see a former student on one of the happiest days of her life. I would miss talking to her mom who had always been a favorite colleague even after I switched schools to be on my own kids’ schedule.
The return trip in the now increasing darkness held just as much anxiety as the last six hours. I found my way past the corner store, the bar, the liquor store, and even the shady gas station. Then after circling a few more large hills that wanted to be regarded as mountains, I saw the skyline of Cincinnati and felt my breathing return to a manageable pace.
As I walked into my empty house, my dogs greeted me like a long-lost traveler. I plugged my phone in successfully with my charger, collapsed onto my bed, and let my dogs snuggle the failure and frustration out of me. I promised myself I would burn the gas station phone charger in effigy in the morning after I texted an apology to my friend and her daughter.