Men and women view directions differently. Scientists have long known that men tell direction by compass points: A man will know he has to go a few miles east, then a couple of blocks south, to get to his destination. Women on the other hand, navigate by landmarks.
This ability was hard-wired into us back in caveman days when the guys, who were the hunters, had to go long distances to track down mastodons and kill other cavemen with clubs. When you're hiking 20 miles in an itchy fur tunic with a bunch of other cavemen with pea brains who can only say "Ugh!" it doesn't make sense to try and remember complicated things like "turn left at tree with bent branch."
Cavewomen, however, traveled shorter distances than their men, as they were gatherers and only had to turn right at the big rock that looked like a sleeping grizzly to find local berries, grains and dead squirrels.
Those genes stick with us today. Men know general directions, and because men are also hard-wired to always believe they're right, they will go in that general direction until they hit a dead end or run out of gas. Then they will punch the steering wheel and curse. Women will be able to take you through a series of 37 turns in the local neighborhood to get to a particular store they like. But if they get out of their immediate area, they will pick up their cell phone, call a husband or boyfriend, and cry.
I know this for a scientific fact because I've felt how much it hurts to punch the steering wheel when I get lost, and I've been on the receiving end of many calls from my wife when she does. I actually relish these calls. She'll be in a strange town on business, late for a meeting, and will take a wrong turn. Or she'll be winding her way through the countryside trying to make it to the next known highway. These are always high-pressure situations as she wouldn't call me unless she was late for something important or hopelessly lost. I'll run to the nearest computer, phone clamped against my shoulder. "Give me your current location!" I bark. Then I pull up Google maps and start calling out directions:
"Head east on West Farmington! Route 23 is dead ahead, and you need to take 23 north to the junction with Witherhollow Road!"
There will be a long pause and my wife will answer, with a little bit of aggravation, that she doesn't know or particularly care which way east is, or north for that matter. She just wants to get where she's going.
We do have a GPS in the car, but it's at least 3 years old. It still works, when it decides to work, but it's kind of arbitrary. Most of the time, it just sits there with a question mark on the screen while the female voice chimes every few seconds: "Searching for satellites ... searching for satellites."
I'm pretty sure this is built into the GPS unit by the manufacturer. It works for three years, then quits on you so you'll go out and buy a new GPS.
Given that the GPS refuses to do the one and only thing it was put on Earth to do, it's up to me to be ground traffic controller in these tense situations. Sometimes, in an effort to bridge the gap between Mars and Venus, and knowing the importance of landmarks to females, I'll switch to "street view" so I can see landmarks.
"You see a McDonald's on your left!" I'll call out. "Stay straight!" "You're passing a supermarket on your right!"
None of this is very helpful, as she could look out the window and tell me what she's seeing, but it lets her know I'm handling things. I kind of see myself as the guy in the white vest in Houston's mission control.
My wife doesn't see it that way. She's in the car driving, probably in the wrong direction, already behind schedule. Quite often, this devolves into tense exchanges, where I'll say something like: "You're going to come up on Greenwood. Make a right there!" and she'll say "Greenberg?" and I'll say "Greenwood!" and she'll say "Greengood?" and I'll start shouting "Greenwood! Greenwood! GREENWOOD!" and she'll say "OK, I just passed Greenwood!" and I'll howl "Awwww, COME ON!" and she will hang up on me.
But not before she's told me where I can go.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.