Let us assume for this moment that you are lost in the Triangle without access to Mapquest or a GPS navigation system. (We know, that is a hard scenario for some of you to believe, but go with us on it.) How should you handle your situation then? Well, here are our handy dandy rules of advice for you.
1) Feel free to ask a stranger for directions. Yes, you can and should slow down your car and move to the side of the road to ask someone you see nearby how to get to another place. It is not considered rude at all around here to take that action –what is considered rude is if that person does not take the time to stop and at least say, “I do not know” or better yet, “There is a store two blocks ahead where someone might know the answer.” In fact, if you ask someone on the street for directions and they blow you off, report them to the nearest law enforcement officer – he or she will set them straight about what their duties are as residents of the Triangle el pronto. You can avoid the possible aggravation and do the old fashioned thing of stopping at a convenience store or restaurant for help instead, of course, but that just shows how unadventurous you are.
2) Be prepared for the directions to involve landmarks and/or time rather than exact streets and distances. By “landmarks,” we mean hotels, restaurants, gas stations, shops and the odd building or even natural growths that people in the area recognize as being distinctive. Most types around here apparently remember those spots better than they do the names of the roads, which actually makes a little sense given how many of the roads change their names in the Triangle, as we have discussed in previous entries. Likewise, the preference for giving an estimated time rather than mileage to a driver has logic behind it as well, as traffic patterns do vary and affect commuters on many roads during the weekdays.
What does this all mean? To put it into perspective, say you are leaving the North Carolina State Fair (http://www.ncstatefair.org/2007a/) heading toward Raleigh and asking someone what is the quickest way to get to Sanford. You probably will hear anyone tell you, “Go to where you see Meredith College on the left, then get ready to turn onto the Beltline and follow that road south using the signs for Sanford. It will probably take you about an hour and a half with this traffic.” That person probably thinks they have given you the best and clearest instructions to the town – you may feel differently, but it is a typical way they are dispensed in the Triangle, so get used to it, and to asking more questions for clarification.
3) Do not be surprised if your respondent veers off topic for a little bit. Suppose you are looking for the Target in Durham off U.S. 15-501. Well, if you come across someone who knows the history of the area, they might tell you, “That is where they used to have the South Square shopping center, up until they created the Streets at Southpoint a few years ago. Man, that mall was something else. I loved the food court because it had the best Orange Julius I have ever had …” and blah, blah, blah. Now, resist your initial temptation and indulge the person’s ramblings – but only for a minute. Direct them back to what you need, and they should get the message. The person also probably will tell you where is the best place to park, what to avoid there and a few other tidbits of irrelevant material – listen politely, smile, nod and move on when you find a suitable stopping place in the conversation. Some people around here just like to talk, which at the very least is better than some other verbs they could do in public.
Follow these simple rules and you will find whatever place you are seeking in the Triangle. If they seem a little offbeat to use and do not give you the straight advice you want, well, just remember the old saying – “Getting there is half the fun.”