Landmarks, Please by
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During my years selling software and related services, from 1977-1985, I had various territories through the midwest and New England. Sometimes I drove my own car to see clients, other times I flew into cities and picked up rental cars (I always asked for small cars; I couldn’t see over the steering wheels of those big Buicks). This was long before GPS came into popular usage.

I should state that I have no innate sense of direction. I can read a map (even those little ones that the rental car companies used to provide). But I needed more detailed instructions to get to the specific location.

As I set up appointments, I made it my practice to ask the client/prospect for detailed driving directions. If I came in from the airport, even if I stayed at a hotel (sometimes I would fly in and out in a single day), I asked for directions with the airport as the starting point. I could navigate from there. Telling me to travel north or south never helped. I needed to know to turn left or right, how many lights I’d pass, what were the landmarks I’d pass (“look for the Waffle House on your right”, for example).

I would always allow myself an extra half hour in the event that I’d get lost. And I was NEVER afraid to stop at a gas station (this was long before self-service was ubiquitous) and ask for help, if I sensed that I was way off track.

I had stacks of 3X5 cards with the client’s name, company, address, phone number and driving directions to get to his company (almost invariably male). I kept those in my briefcase, alphabetized, bound by a rubber band. Each client then had a folder with other information from each call, once I started the relationship, but that card had the pertinent information for getting to the destination. I could hold it up in my hand as I drove. I might not know if I’ve driven .3 miles, but I knew if I’d passed the middle school. The landmarks kept me on-track.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, right on!


  1. Makes sense to me Betsy to get and keep those directions!

    I remember as a kid going on my own downtown by subway from my home in the Bronx to Manhattan. My mother would write out explicit directions like , “Get off the train at 59 St, walk towards the front of the train, take stairway on your left, at the top of stairs turn right on Lexington Ave and walk three blocks, etc”
    Bless her!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Amazingly efficient of you, Betsy — I am not surprised. And, like my wife, you are very much focused on landmarks as the touchstone to get to places. And it obviously worked just fine — unless, of course, they tore the middle school down.

    I am more directionally focused. Even though I know it makes no real difference in driving a route from A to B, for whatever reason I like to know if I am going N, W, S or E, and not simply “up” on my GPS screen. And apparently this is somewhat gender specific. I’ve read that most male drivers, like me, prefer setting their GPS map so that north is always on top, regardless of where they are driving to, and female drivers prefer always driving “up,” regardless of the direction. Go figure.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Certainly at the time I was given driving directions by my client, that middle school (for example) would still be there as my reference point, John (yes, I know you are just making point, as was I).

      You do make an interesting point about GPS settings with “up”, vs “north”. I wonder why the male vs female reference points are different?

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    You did a great job of planning and organizing your visits, and visual cues are always the best. They also help if you are using GPS but something isn’t right (eg going into a re-routed construction zone ); you still have to rely on what you see over the computer. However, it still amazes me the preciseness and detail that GPS provides worldwide! I didn’t know that the Apple Watch also gave directions—but shouldn’t be surprised, given all its other lifesaving abilities.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree that GPS is great if you are re-routed, Khati. And despite all of our (at least, my husband’s) uses for the Apple Watch, I also did not know it could be used for guidance, but why not? Unfortunately, my wrists are too small to wear one, so its of no use to me!

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy, and I’m with you, landmarks are the most helpful way to give directions. If someone (or the GPS voice) says “head north” it does me no good at all. I want to look for the Waffle House! Also I agree about stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. I have done that many times, although now I don’t know if the people working in a gas station would even know how to get to a certain place.

    I disagree with John about the gender thing. My husband likes to have to GPS show us going “up” just as much as I do. The only gender difference is that he knows how to change it if it isn’t doing that, and I don’t.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Suzy. We clearly are both visually oriented people. And bravo to your husband, who (unlike you AND me) knows how to change the orientation of your GPS! LOL!

    • John Shutkin says:

      In my defense, Suzy, the materials I read made clear that this was a statistical difference only; it did not apply to all male or all female drivers. As to changing it, at least in the system in my car, there is simply a compass icon in an upper corner of the screen that you can press to toggle between the two presentations. Also, I am not sure that some of the apps, like WAZE, allow directional orientation; it just always points you up along your route and rotates the background as you turn. But I hardly have a PhD. in GPS.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    I love Google Maps “street view.” If I am driving someplace new, I can look for landmarks to help me know where to turn.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I also mostly drive by landmark. Turn left after you pass Walgreen’s, etc. That’s how my mother taught me. In her older years, I drove but she gave directions, and they always involved looking for a landmark.

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