Back in 2015, thanks to my favorite travel agent, Lady Jane, who arranged my fourth trip across the pond, this time to Eastern and Central Europe, a trip that took us through five countries, I was able to see yet again so much more of the world than my parents ever could have envisioned in their lifetimes.
The trip encompassed parts of Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria over an eight-day period. Now, there are many I know who’re afflicted with a duel delusion. First, because I do travel quite a bit, some assume I know a lot about arranging these junkets — from flights and tours to hotels and such. And, second, because my travels sometime take me abroad, some assume I must know quite a bit about world geography. Actually, neither is true.
As for the first, Jane handles almost all of the details of our trips, leaving only sports-related items like purchasing tickets to me, especially baseball, where Jane enjoys people watching and eating ballpark brats much more than watching men chasing after fly balls.
As for the second, that world-geography item, I must admit that not only do I not possess an intimate and innate knowledge of that geography but I also often don’t really know where the heck I’m going in my own country.
Pals like Shag Schepp and Grogan Johnson have for years chuckled at my skewed notions over where those damn compass points really are, especially on cloudy days or at night when I can’t find the sun and the distance it’s traveled after coming up in the east, a fact which I’ve been told and have no reason to doubt.
The mystifying nature of directions even bleeds into my old teaching subject matter, to the parts of speech, the preposition, in particular. Routinely, when we used to take our summer baseball trips, I’ve referred to heading “up” to Cincinnati or “down” to Detroit, which always prompted some incredulous stares.
So, when it came to being able to answer in some sort of intelligent fashion the details of that Eastern-Central European trip, I needed some way to remember all five countries. A little simple rearranging of the five countries’ first letters that I saw on a Globus Coach tour that would begin in Munich and loop out to the four other countries before returning to Munich for the flight home brought me to a nice little mnemonic device.
By remembering the non-existent word CHAGS, I could, before I left, effortlessly tick off Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Slovakia when some asked where my next trip was. The fact that I wouldn’t actually see the countries in that order meant little to me.
Lady Jane, who has a deep and abiding affections for maps and, no doubt, were she to have lived in a different time, could have rivaled the Italian explorer Vespucci and Englishman John Smith of Jamestown fame, as cartographic masters, shook her head in bemused fashion when I first proudly trotted out my CHAGS. When she gave me the order of the countries we would actually visit, thereby objecting to my mnemonic aid, I countered with, “Well, if I thought I could remember the unpronounceable GCSHA, I’d be true to the order!”
When it comes to this problem finding my way around life, I think it may be traceable to my earliest days of being a passenger in a car or on a school bus. From my passenger seat, I really had little interest in the streets we traveled. I just figured as long as my dad knew how to get to White Castle in my Chicago days for a sack of those delicious sliders that sold in the 1950s for a nickel a piece or the St. Charles School bus driver, we’d get to our destination eventually. Perhaps if my dad had said from time to time as we trekked to the source of those delicious little burgers, “Hey, Jack, do I turn right or left up here?” I’d have cultivated some directional competency. So, I’m going to blame my dad for this.
Once, when I wrote a column about one of my visits back to my old college town of Oxford, home of Miami University, where I did my undergrad, I referred to the geographical area as Southeast Ohio instead of Southwest. It was the compositional version of a simple slip of the compass-point tongue, one pointed out by one of my readers who emailed me and pointed out she’d noticed the error and asked if I was left-handed. The reason, she said, for the question is her husband had told her that southpaws are far more directionally challenged that northpaws. Whether true or not, that’s a matter of conjecture. Since I’m right-handed, somehow, that makes me feel even worse!
However, like so much in my life, like the calculator that came along to save me from my mathematical shortcomings, Garmin has arrived, and life as a directionally challenged dude has gotten so much easier. Not only in my life have I not been able to fold a map effectively, I’ve really not been very good at reading one either.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.