Getting lost

My dad’s car was in the shop, so he needed me to pick him up from work. He’s in construction, so he doesn't go to a typical office — instead, his company will move a few trailers to a place near the job site. He texted me the address since I had never been there before.

I felt a bit nervous when I got into the car because I knew that my old iPhone 5 would die right under 20 percent. This is especially true when it’s doing something power-intensive, and I’d need Google Maps open the whole way.

The job site was on highway I-35, and the trailers were about two miles from the exit. The 20 percent battery alert came as I was getting off, but I figured it would hold out for the last two or three turns.

I took the first left into an industrial complex. Coming up to the next turn, I noticed a guard rail about hundred yards down. The street was a dead end – Google Maps had let me down.

I though about warning my dad. Instead, I unlocked my phone and searched. The trailers were on a road that ran end-to-end though a wooded area behind the industrial complex. I tried to work backwards, but the route was just complicated enough for my phone to die before I had anything memorized. My dad was expecting me, and I knew neither his address nor his phone number.

I love maps — so much so that my parents gave me a hardcover Rand McNally World Atlas for Christmas one year. But I think what makes me love maps the most is the opportunity they present for design.


One of my favorites is Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 map of the New York subway system. This was one of the first maps to sacrifice geographical accuracy for clarity and information.

Google Maps is similar in a way. It’s accurate because our screens can zoom and pan, but we usually don’t even notice. Most of the time, we’re just paying attention to the next direction. Kevin Nguyen talks about this in The Lost World:

We don’t really get lost anymore, but we also don’t know where we’re going.

Perhaps this is why New Yorkers were angry when Vignelli’s map was first released. You could use it for subways, but was it really a map of New York?

I’ve only driven a few times in San Antonio since my parents moved there after I left for college. I didn’t know how to get back to their house from where I was, so I decided to go door-to-door looking for someone kind enough to lend me an iPhone charger.

I walked into several offices, none of which were really designed to receive visitors. It was awkward and uncomfortable.

“Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m looking for an office nearby. The address was in my phone, but my phone died, so I was wondering if anyone could let me borrow an iPhone charger for a few minutes?”

Embarrassingly, I didn't even remember the name of the road I was looking for. I had pasted it straight from my dad’s text and that was it.

With no luck, I drove back to a strip mall near the highway. There were a few restaurants and an acupuncture clinic. I preferred to avoid the former so I didn’t interrupt the waitstaff. 

Finally, the man behind the clinic counter had a charger in his car. He hooked it up to the computer in the office while I sat in the waiting room. We checked the phone after about ten minutes, but it was still dead.

Over an hour late now, I realized something I should have thought immediately — I was wearing a Pebble, which kept the address in my notification history.

I showed it to the man, who seemed both fascinated by the watch and glad that my problem was now resolved. We went to the back office together, where he typed the address into Google Maps.

As a kid, I was always impressed by the way my parents seemed to know where they were going. My mom would write down step-by-step directions on a sheet of paper before she left the house, though every outing came with the chance of getting lost.

I started driving around the time I got my first iPhone, and I’ve never had to ask for directions. I can't say I feel like I'm missing out, but I have to admit that my experience seemed surreal — especially when the problem was resolved by *more* technology. Kevin continues: 

We spend too much time being terrified of getting lost rather than embracing the chance to be confronted by something new and unknown.

I might have been able to figure out where the trailers were without my phone, but I didn't think of it at the time. Perhaps my reaction – to just get my phone working again as quickly as possible – is more telling than anything else.