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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Some questions are rarely asked

By Dick Hirsch

Most people tell me that one of my skills is asking questions. I can’t disagree because I have always been an inquisitive person, a quality that probably helped lead me into journalism. In addition, I spent over 19 years conducting live interviews on television. Those were weekly half hour programs, and I can honestly say that I never was short of questions on any night and I never used any note cards with pre-planned questions.

With that as background, I can tell you that I have frequently be criticized for refusing to ask directions while driving in unfamiliar territory. I understand that my situation is far from unique. That is a behavior pattern that has been widely attributed to humans of the masculine gender, with the observation most often made by wives, usually while seated in the passenger seat of a moving vehicle.

I have often heard the allegation, usually phrased something like this:

“You men are all the same. You would rather drive around, not knowing whether you are going in the right direction, instead of asking somebody for directions.”

I don’t deny any of that. I speak only for myself, not on behalf of others in my group who from time to time face the same accusation. My policy is this: driving is comparable to being at the helm of a ship, such as the captain, and it is the driver’s responsibility to travel to the proper destination in the time allotted. Asking for directions shows a lack of confidence or weakness, don’t you agree?

In all my years of experience, I have never been lost. When the children were younger and we were vacationing, they sometimes seemed concerned, fearful that as I drove around in the gathering darkness, I didn’t know where I was. I might not have known exactly where I was at that precise moment, but I always knew my approximate location. Do you not agree that a driver must be self reliant? That has always been my opinion and I see no reason to either change my attitude or else invest in a GPS, one of those global positioning systems that provides reliable travel directions. I have friends who depend on those and I can still get from Point A to Point B before they do.

Besides, there are fewer dependable sources for travel directions. The best sources were the service stations, where you could usually pull in and find three or four guys who were very familiar with the neighborhood. They either worked there or were stopping in just to socialize and maybe play a little cribbage. They were able to provide concise directions and sometimes even suggest an optional short cut. Those places are mostly gone now, with gasoline being dispensed at convenience stores, where the clerks consider themselves to be well above average if they are able to find their own way to work on time.

I was under great pressure a few months ago when we were away to attend a surprise birthday dinner party. Those attending were supplied with written directions from the hotel to the site of the party. Sometimes such documents provide room for misinterpretation, such as “Cross Walnut Street and follow Route 345.” That’s fine, but it doesn’t say whether to follow 345 to the left or to the right.

In that case I went left. We kept going and going and it kept getting darker and less populated. We were surrounded by cabbage fields. I made a U-turn and headed in the opposite direction. Concerned that we would miss the surprise aspect of the party, I relented, violated my own policy, and asked some help from other motorists at stop lights. No luck. I stopped at a deli, where I found a truck driver who had never heard of our destination, but said he believed I was going in the right direction. We made it in time, not because of any directions, but because we finally spotted a billboard advertising the restaurant, thus keeping my record unsullied: never been lost.

On the other hand, I am perfectly willing to give directions when asked. Sometimes it doesn’t work out well, however, like the occasion when a driver with Kansas plates pulled alongside and asked me how to get to Route 384. Sorry, I told him, I had no idea.

Oops; later that day I realized Route 384 is Delaware Avenue, which was just a few blocks west of where the question was asked. I’ve always admitted I was better at asking questions than at answering them.



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