The Lake is East by
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For people like me who are directionally challenged, living near Lake Michigan in the Chicago suburbs is extremely helpful. As long as I know where the lake is, I know I am headed east. Having lived in a house in Evanston a block from the lake for 45 years kept me on track, although once I take an angle street, I quickly become disoriented. Thank goodness for GPS.

As long as I know where the lake is, I know I am headed east.

I used to hate to drive to places out of my home territory. Before GPS, I had one memorized route for every destination in which I lost sight of Lake Michigan. Sadly, this method did not consider detours and road closures. One harrowing trip I made in a blinding rainstorm to O’Hare Airport to pick up my son and daughter-in-law was a particular disaster. The exit I usually took was closed, forcing me to venture into totally unfamiliar territory. Between the rain and my tears, I somehow managed to get off at the next exit and work my way back to the airport just in time to pick them up. I’m pretty sure I was in the throes of an anxiety attack, although somehow, I managed to reorient myself and visualize the way to get to the lake.

The baby was a thrill, but driving to my daughter’s house was not

Another special directionally challenged experience happened in the early GPS era. My daughter in Indiana had her first baby and my husband drove me there, planning to return in a week. This happened six weeks after major back surgery for me, which the doctor falsely promised would be fine in time for the blessed event. We went to the hospital to see our new granddaughter and, despite my pain, I was beyond happy. But eventually, my husband left and I had to drive their car back to their house to feed the dogs. Despite being given explicit directions, I became disoriented exiting the parking lot and knew I was going the wrong way. I pulled over crying in back pain and fear and engaged the GPS directions. Despite being sent on a very strange route that took me through back roads and very dark streets, thankfully, I arrived at my destination.

This experience was the start of my lifelong love of GPS. People like my husband, who has an excellent sense of direction, often decide to disregard the route that comforting voice tells me to take, but I know that, even if it takes me far out of my way, I will eventually arrive at my destination. Having an Apple watch is also pretty helpful because it ticks like a turn signal before each turn. Great. Now I can venture away from being able to see Lake Michigan to get where I need to go.

My grandsons love Lake Michigan for different reasons

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. I understand completely Laurie! Living in Manhattan I realize I’m always unconsciously aware of where I am in relation to the East River and the Hudson, and thus know if I’m headed north, east, south, or west.

    But take me to Brooklyn and fuhgetaboutit!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, I am your soul sister! I entirely relate to your anxiety about directions (even with GPS). Like you, growing up in Detroit, with everything on a mile grid, was relatively easy. Now, in the ancient city of Boston, where roads where once the paths that cows took to graze, the routes make no sense at all and I quickly become disoriented. I’m not even in love with GPS, as it takes really circuitous routes, and mine will say, “stay to the right”, when it means, “take a right turn”, which doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’m glad that, despite your panic attacks, you got to the airport, and got to your daughter’s house to feed the dog. Good for you. You showed stamina and bravery. Carry on, sistah!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I would never attempt to drive in Boston. It’s impossible. I remember once we kept “circling the square” at Harvard, trying to find our son’s apartment. While GPS often sends me out of my way, I don’t panic anymore because I know eventually, after the voice “recalculates,” she will get me there.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    I fully agree with you, Laurie. I always thought I was good at directions — though see my comment to Suzy’s story about driving back to college — but I, too, have now given myself completely over to GPS. And I do that even knowing that it has failed me miserably some times. (As Betsy can probably confirm, the greater Boston area has so many streets with the same names, if one is not careful, GPS can route you somewhere completely different from where you want to go.)

    Anyhow, I’m glad that you are now more comfortable in finding where you want to go. Indeed, I’ll also have to sync my Apple Watch with my GPS — thanks for the tip. That said, from my few, recent years in Milwaukee, I, too, learned the importance of remembering “The Lake is East.”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The watch thing is pretty cool, John. It actually vibrates slightly and makes a quiet ticking sound. Coupled with their maps, I’m pretty good these days. Maybe next car, I will get a GPS with Apple play that coordinates the whole enterprise. Wish I had bought stock in Apple backl in the day.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Wonderful pictures! Having something like the Lake to cue you in is great but once you are out of sight, not so easy. Good on you for persevering through pain and angst and weather to find your way—I can understand how GPS has improved life! Despite the fact that Chicago is a huge grid, we were very happy thank you to have GPS getting from O’Hare to a nearby hotel (freeway exits and malls really turn you around and even if you can see your destination, you can’t always get there from here). We hope the satellites that support the GPS system continue to function despite Elon, solar storms and other mishaps.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I just read about a couple that crashed 300 feet in to a canyon, survived the crash, found her phone, but of course there was no cell service. But her newish iPhone had an SOS feature that pinged a signal to a satellite and they were rescued by helicopter. I need that phone!

  5. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I’m just like you in having a memorized route for every destination. I never lived in a place with a helpful lake that would tell me which way is east. I know in Colorado people use the mountains the same way. When the exit you were planning to use turns out to be closed, like on your trip to O’Hare, it could really lead to panic in the old, pre-GPS days. For people like you and me, GPS is a godsend, even if other aspects of technology are not!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I know from reading your story that we are alike in our ability to know which way to go. So yes, I love GPS. Hated paper maps because I was always the navigator and it took me a while to orient myself. By the time that happened, Fred had driven miles out of the way. See my comment to Khati. Technology can be so cool.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    The Apple watch ticking is pretty cool!

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