Lost in DC: Navigation Fail that deserves its own Wikipedia page.

Apr 08, 2010

Not long after moving to DC I gave up on the concept of going to gathers organized by users of meetup.com for a variety of reasons. Most of them involved never being able to find the agreed-upon locations of things that I'm interested in, though a few factor in getting there so late that everybody'd already gone home. Needless to say, after a few such fuckups I decided that it was more interesting to do other things. A couple of years later (but about two weeks ago) Jason asked in passing that he'd found a meetup called Chaos In DC, and would I like to go?

I thought about this for a moment. It'd been a couple of years, I rationalized, and I wouldn't be driving so our chances of actually getting there were pretty good. Besides, I have a smartphone with realtime access to Google Maps and a GPS nav system built in. What the hell - I threw my hat into the ring and cleared my calendar for Friday night.

What could possibly go wrong?

I should have known that something was up when Jason and I had to double back on route 50 a couple of times because we just weren't finding the left-hand turn we were supposed to make. Things stop looking familiar. Things start looking a little too familiar. My phone's GPS had put us a few blocks to the south of the proper exit, which didn't help matters any. Still, it wouldn't have been the first time that we'd taken that particular road to downtown and gotten a bit off the beam. We made a few educated guesses and found the proper exit, only to find ourselves smack in the middle of Friday night in, on, and around the GMU campus. Surrounded by other frustrated drivers, maniacal taxi cabs piloted by people who were probably navigating by touch, and dodging the hordes of drunken twentysomething revelers, we found ourselves wondering if we were going to be fashionably late, or more likely horribly late. As in, "it's over, everybody went home to sleep it off" late.

By now it's around 2115 EST5EDT. The insulation on our wiring is beginning to show a bit of wear and the cracks start coming. I gain new appreciation for the wit, wisdom, and frustration of Warren Ellis, whom I decided to provisionally accept as my Short Duration Personal Savior. We eventually find the place that we're looking for along the main drag, well into northwestern DC but there is nary a parking space to be seen. The other clubs and bars are full up and we have to fall back upon plan B: making a mental note of where the site is so we can park and walk back to it.

It took us another forty-five minutes or therabouts to find a parking garage a couple of blocks away from the restaurant, but we figured that we could walk around the block to get back to the main drag, and from there it'd be a straight shot back. DC's laid out on a grid, right? This should be a piece of cake...

Suffice it to say that the evening in question was a complete and utter farce. We never found the restaurant on foot. We did, however, find a Hispanic culture fair, lots of bars, a restaurant that threw us out when I stopped to consult my GPS, and a couple of things which I ordinarily demand hazard pay and body armor to see in person. We even found ourselves at the front door of HacDC at one point; I debated running upstairs to see if anyone was in the 'space so I could ask for directions, but no lights could be seen through the windows. All in all, I think we walked something like twenty blocks that night. I felt profoundly grateful that I'd taken up running during lunch hour because I doubt that I could have made it that far without regular exercise. My smartphone never did get a lock on our position so its directions to us were worse than worthless - they got us more and more lost. Then again, looking around and trying to figure out where in the hell we were didn't leave us in much of a better position. Somehow, we kept turning left when we should have gone right, right when we should have gone straight, and straight when we should have doubled back. We were so lost we couldn't even find the parking garage we'd left Jason's car in. By 2330 EST5EDT we'd finally stumbled back and were headed for home by way of a greasy spoon for a long overdue dinner.

En route to the Beltway we saw the restaurant we'd been searching for to our left while stopped at a traffic light.

Have you ever been so frustrated, so angry, so downright fed up that all you could do is laugh like you'd just blown your forebrain like a kilo of plastique French kissing a nine volt battery? That was us. Tired, sore and royally pissed, we howled at that damned neon sign lighting up the intersection like one of H.P. Lovecraft's hapless protagonists. We have yet to figure out what the frag happened that night; maybe we were never supposed to make it. Perhaps the very universe itself, in an effort to prevent us from crashing it for good, twisted and distorted like an ex-girlfriend shooting up a Belushi special in a dirty bathroom. Maybe the tales they tell about the history of DC are true. Maybe Jason and I individually have no sense of direction, but together we constitute a navigational horror, a mathematical paradox in the fabric of spacetime which should have warning beacons positioned light minutes in every direction to scare away any passing sentient life, human or non-.