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road sage

You don't know what you've got until it's gone. It's a statement as true as it is trite. You can't fully appreciate something, whether it's a hot cup of coffee or a summer afternoon on the beach, until it's beyond your grasp. I was reminded of this a few weeks back when, while making the drive from Boston to Newport, R.I., I found myself in a CVS pharmacy asking the clerk the following question: "Hello, can you tell me where I am?"

The question threw her. "Uh, you're in Fall River."

But not as much as my next one: "Do you sell road maps?"

"Road … maps," she said. "No, I don't think we sell those."

Here I was with miles of highway running in all directions and no idea where any led and no prospect of knowing any more any time soon. I was simultaneously filled with anxiety and … exhilaration? What was this strange feeling? I was, as the dictionary defined it, "unable to find one's way; not knowing one's whereabouts." Then it came to me – I was totally, blissfully lost.

How had I come to be lost in our high-tech era? Blame frugality and pride. Rather than rent a GPS from Hertz, I decided to plan out my trip and have a set of printed directions on hand. I'd navigate like I had in the old days.

That's where the trouble started. Five minutes after picking up my rental car, I was almost broadsided by a Bostonian and, another 15 minutes, later I was somehow on Massachusetts Route 3 heading to Cape Cod rather than Massachusetts Route 24 (M24) to Newport. I was doing 60 mph, lost with the sons of New England blazing by on every side.

There are few observations more hackneyed than the assertion that men, when lost, will not ask for directions.

That's probably because men, when lost, will never ask for directions but I now recognize that it's not so much that men won't ask for directions, it's that a man will not ask for directions until he can lay the responsibility for his predicament, nay the blame, on a spouse, lover, or significant other.

Case in point: me.

What did I do when faced with my inability to navigate a highway? I wedged my iPhone in my shirt collar so that the speaker sat beneath my chin and I called my wife. Roaming charges be damned. I did not have GPS so it was time to use WPS (Wife Positioning System).

"Hey, it's me. Look, I'm on the highway and for some reason I'm going to Cape Cod. I need you to go on your computer and look up where I'm going and then tell me where to go."

What went through her mind at this moment, I can't say. Shock? Disbelief?

How does a person who is sitting at her desk working respond when a grown man, someone she has procreated with, calls her from a remote location and essentially transfers all responsibility for being lost to her shoulders?

"You're lost?"

"No. I don't know where I'm going."

"Okay. You don't know where you're going."

"And I need you to use your computer and tell me where I'm going."

And so, after calling up the correct information, she steered me back on course. I thanked her and hoped that we'd never speak of the incident again. Of course, I got lost two more times but was too embarrassed to call and ask for more help. That's how I found myself in a CVS looking for a road map.

"I'm trying to get to Newport."

The woman behind me piped up, "That's easy." Then she gave me directions.

I was saved once again.

Later, driving past quaint New England churchyards and not-so-quaint New England strip malls, I pondered my detour. Being lost had been a hassle but it had also been a pleasure. A GPS world in which no one ever takes a wrong turn lacks humanity. There's something to be said for aimlessly driving down mistaken highways. I was reminded of that great New England wanderer Henry David Thoreau who wrote, "Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves."

He was referring to spiritual bewilderment, but I can tell you it applies equally well to interstate highways and drives from Boston to Rhode Island.

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