“Linda, I have an errand for you. I want you to go down to Replacement Parts Service and pick up a part for a customer’s car,” my father instructed. “I’ve already called and ordered the part, and they’re expecting you.” This was pretty exciting. I was a novice driver, having had my license only a few weeks and loved to drive more than shopping, more than eating—heck, even more than sleeping! However, I was caring for my 4-year-old sister that day, and it meant she had to tag along.
“How…how far is it, Daddy?” I asked, gnawing my bottom lip, considering my terrible sense of direction.
“It’s downtown, but it’s very easy to get to and will take about 20 minutes.” My father drew me a map and included lots of landmarks to be sure I wouldn’t get lost. “Now it’s all one way on Lincoln Avenue,” he said, “so when you come back, you go to the next street, which is Eberly Street. It’s one way going in the opposite direction,” and he drew a return home map.
Ellie was sitting in the back in her car seat. I turned the radio to WCAO, and together we were singing along to Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” as I watched the street signs and looked for the landmarks. Just as my father had said, we were there in 20 minutes. Well, that was pretty easy. I took Ellie’s hand as we entered the service department, which was located exactly where my father said. Since he had called ahead, they were waiting for me and gave me the part. All was going well. It was just 4:30, and I didn’t have much homework to do, so we’d get home in plenty of time. I just loved driving my father’s big Buick, feeling extremely grown-up for my 16 years.
When I left RPS and turned left to go to Eberly, I noticed the orange cones, the big Mack trucks, and the street sign that declared the street was closed. “Oh crap,” I said too loud.
“What’s wrong, Linny?” Ellie said.
“Nothing. The street is closed. We’ll have to go around,” I said with more assurance than I felt. I told myself I’d just go to the next street. But the next street was one-way going the wrong way. Well, the next one has to be going the right way, I reasoned. It turned out to be a two-way street, which was just as good. Except, it didn’t go straight. Soon I was going around in the wrong direction.
Lost in Baltimore
After about 15 minutes of not knowing where to go, I finally asked a man who was walking by how to get to Northern Parkway which was the street that had led onto Lincoln. I knew I could find my way home from there. The man was very nice but gave me complicated directions—well, they probably weren’t that complicated, but I was nervous, had nothing to write with and couldn’t remember more than two of the many turns he’d indicated. I didn’t want to admit to this stranger that I had the brain of a pea, so I decided to go as far as I could remember and then ask someone else and just keep doing that till I got home.
Now, this marathon of directions seemed quite logical, but I didn’t count on people giving opposite directions from the person I’d asked before. After about an hour of being lost, I was crying, thinking I’d never find my way home, and if I did, my father would never let me drive again, and my mother would never forgive me for being lost with my baby sister.
“Why you cryin’, Linny?” I didn’t want her to know we were lost and cry too.
“Oh, I’m not crying. I just have something in my eye.”
“You need a Kleenex,” she suggested.
“I know, but I don’t have one right now. It’ll water out in a few minutes.” I thought this was brilliant because I could cry for a long time and keep blaming it on something in my eye and no Kleenex.
The problem was that two hours later we were even more lost. I knew this because we passed a sign that said, “Baltimore—10 miles” but the arrow was pointing in the opposite direction! It was dark by then, Ellie was crying because she was hungry and had to go to the bathroom, and I could no longer hide my fear about our being lost. Even at four years old, she knew we should have been home a long time ago. I realized I would never find my way home, so I just stopped at a house that had the porch light on. I took Ellie out of the car seat and we climbed the steps to the porch.
“Where are we, Linny? Whose house is this?”
“We’re just stopping here to see if the people will let me use their phone so I can call Daddy.”
“Maybe they’ll let me go to the bathroom,” she said hopefully.
When the woman opened the door, I explained my dilemma, and she, said, “Oh dear, you poor things. Of course, come in.”
Ellie was pulling on my sleeve, her eyes pleading. “Do you think my sister can use your bathroom?” I asked hopefully.
“Of course. You come with me sweetie while your sister calls your dad.”
When I heard my dad’s voice, I broke down. “Da—daddy,” I cried. “I’m-hic-lost and Baltimore is a long-hic-way off, and Ellie’s hungry and had to go to the bathroom, so the lady . . .”
In spite of my distress, I could hear the relief in his voice when he interrupted. “Where are you, and what ‘lady’? he asked in a steady voice.
“I-I-I don’t know,” I stammered. I rang the bell of this house.”
“Well, let me talk to the lady.” By this time, she had returned with Ellie, and I gave her the phone, telling her my dad wanted to talk to her. I heard her give her address and then she said to me, “Your dad’s going to find a map so he can see where you are and tell you how to get home. Don’t worry.” Well it was too late for that advice. She returned the phone to me. While I waited, I could hear my mother berating him in the background.
“I can’t believe you sent her on an errand—and with the baby, yet! She’s sixteen years old—had her license five damn minutes! What’s wrong with you?”
I was relieved when my dad returned to the phone with explicit directions. They were easy really—one turn, then straight for ten or so miles and I’d be on Northern Parkway. “Now, if there’s anything different from what I’m telling you—anything at all—you stop and call me back.” I wonder how he knew there would be. When I got to Ebersole, it was one way going in the opposite direction from how I was supposed to turn. I spotted a phone booth on the corner. (They were plentiful in the 1960s before the proliferation of cell phones.) I parked next to it and called home.
My dad answered the phone on the first ring, and I told him the problem. “Find a street sign and tell me what it says.” I looked up at the lamppost and saw Harford Road and Ebersole. I told this to my father. “Okay, let me look at the map again. Hang on. You’re right, honey,” he said when he returned to the phone. “Ebersole is one-way the wrong way. But you can go to the next street, Hammond, and it will be going north and take you to Northern Parkway.”
“Okay, Daddy,” I said. And he was right. I arrived home at 8:30. The whole family was there—not just my parents and siblings. My whole family—aunts, uncles and grandparents, for God’s sake! My daddy came over and hugged me. Ellie ran to my mother.
My 14-year-old brother Chuck had a million questions: “How come you waited so long to call? Did you really go to Bel Air? How did the Buick handle? Man, I wish I could drive the Buick. They’d never let ME drive it for five whole hours!” My 10-year-old brother Rick said he was scared. My older sister, Marcia, said she was hoping she’d get our room all to herself!
The last laugh
But my Uncle Ducky called me the “Wayward Traveler” all the rest of his life until he died 20 years later. And I learned to be an expert map reader.
Read more by Linda Miller.