Go West, Young Woman

Editor’s note: Former Hampton Union correspondent and Hampton Falls resident Aubry Bracco recently decided to leave the safe confines of the New Hampshire Seacoast for the big city of Seattle. We thought it would be fun to follow her as she struggles, in her own inimitable way, with the changes that move has brought.

I am directionally deficient.
Sure, I’m aware of my current location (Seattle, Wash.) and Zip Code (98102), but put me down in the middle of a city street and ask me to travel north, east, south or west? I would probably have better luck blindfolded.

Some in my clan were born with built-in GPS systems. We all have them — those family members and friends who are dropped into a new city (kerplunk!) and — Bam! — they know exactly where to go.

I often think these human compasses among us have miniature devices implanted in their brains and small speakers affixed to their eardrums providing constant, insider advice from that mechanical voice many of us know so well.

Unfortunately, like a few other unfortunate souls in my family, I do not have such wiring (or wiring for a singing voice, for that matter). It’s just something I’ve had to accept. So, I’ll blame my utter lack of directional awareness on genetics.

Somehow I found my way to Post Alley in Seattle.

From my home base in Hampton Falls, I had Rockingham County pretty much nailed down.* After a few years writing for local papers and repetitive drives to town halls, police stations and local schools, my concentric circles of geographic knowledge gradually expanded beyond the Hampton/Exeter area.

Like a tree gaining a ring of larger diameter each year it evades death via chain saw, I gained a few new towns on an annual basis — Newmarket, Durham, Kingston, Sandown, out into the great beyond, all the way to Atkinson. Directionally, I had it made in my comfortable New Hampshire nest.
But, I can’t complain. Disorientation was my choice. The relocation of the ocean from the right to the left side of my mental map was something I decided I just had to do.

This “coast on the west” concept has only been the start of the trouble. You see, here in Seattle, compass directions are used in place of the explicit indicators I’m used to at home.

Most difficult for me are parking signs. In New Hampshire, “No Parking Between Signs,” “No Parking Here to Corner,” and “No Parking, Tow Zone” are unmistakable. For the most part, a kindergartner could decipher and adhere to the parking regulations without much thought.

Seattle’s parking signs, on the other hand, are a force to be reckoned with.

Here is one: “No Parking South of Here 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

That’s fine, but where is south?

Yesterday, I found a triple-whammy. On a pole, lined up from top to bottom were the following signs:
1. “No Parking West of Here”

2. “2 Hour Parking 7AM — 6PM (Except — Sun — Hol.) Except by Zone 4 Permit”

3. “East of Here”

The “No Parking West of Here” sign caused minor issue, nothing a trusty BlackBerry wasn’t able to solve with a quick (and discrete) peek at the Google Maps application and selection of the “my location” option to determine my position in space.

Crisis averted.

My comprehension of the second sign went off without a hitch until I reached the “Zone 4” business. Zone 4? Permit? That required Internet research on the Seattle Department of Transportation’s page on the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) Program.

The situation was still somewhat under control.

But the “East of Here” sign left me flummoxed. It was detached, lonesome; it gave off an eerie, almost ominous vibe. What was going on “East of Here?” Was there something I should know about?

Luckily, I didn’t bring my car. But such preparation is vital, in case I ever do.

Without a BlackBerry or map on hand, I’ve had to use landmarks, but even those have me a bit twisted when I’m in an unfamiliar area.

As if the Atlantic/Pacific Ocean issue weren’t complicated enough, I’m surrounded by so many bodies of water, including Lake Union and Lake Washington, I could easily mistake either for Puget Sound, located to the west. Such confusion could cause me to flip not only east and west, but east and north or north and west, depending on my compass competency and ability or inability to accurately identify water on any given day.

Last week, a fellow New Englander kindly informed me that Mt. Rainier, the looming beauty of the Cascade Range, is located to the south. That’s wonderful, but what if I can’t see it? Seattle isn’t exactly famed for weather that lends itself to visibility, especially in the winter.

Oftentimes, I’ll look for the 605-foot Space Needle, but even he (you know it’s dire when you begin to anthropomorphize Seattle’s most famous landmark) can be a shifty character. An unexpected, but welcome addition to the skyline when I know where I am going, and absent when I need him most, I like to call the Space Needle the Space Noodle, a nickname I adopted after spotting the tourist-targeting pasta in a shop downtown.

I feel guilty blaming a helpless metal tower. I’m not being fair. The view is gorgeous, the weather impeccable so far, the cherry blossoms blooming and the company laid-back and polite. Any city would present problems to a girl who has relied on the Galley Hatch, the “Addams Family” house, Applecrest and the Exeter gazebo as points on the compass her entire life.

I’m just glad I’m not a bird. If I had to fly south for the winter, who knows where I would end up?

P.S. I will admit, I never did figure out just how to get to South Hampton without driving into Massachusetts first. Feel free to share your sense of direction with me @AubryBracco.

Originally published on Seacoastonline March 23, 2010.

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