I jaywalked diagonally from one sidewalk to the other. At 7:30 in the morning traffic is light. But I hadn’t noticed others on the sidewalk. Except for a well-bundled family, which walked up the hill I was going down. A tall husband, wife, and their two children. The man made eye contact with me and said “Monsieur, monsieur.” I stopped and looked at him, realizing he’d ask me for directions.
People look at you a certain way, like a dog gazing up submissively, when they need directions. And pedestrians tend to be good choices: a man on foot knows his way through the thoroughfairs, back streets and alleys, and wherever else feet tend to go. Except, I don’t. I remember it in my unconscious gut and I can go anywhere by gut, but I don’t know how to explain this.
Once I tried. I confidently detailed instructions for an old lady… in a series of directions that had nothing to do with where she needed to go. I realized my mistake five minutes after leaving her. Worried, I turned back to find her but I was too late, she’d already gone too far for me to find. Now I usually apologize first and leave people to ask a more reliable source.
The man asked me in his inquisitive Russian accent “La Grand Central Station?” I wondered for a moment where that could be. The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t imagine a Grand Central Station. This time when I offered my “désolé” I really meant it. But as I walked off, I considered that I’d been to a Grand Central Station in New York. Had this Russian family come to the wrong place? Maybe I should go back and tell them that they need to go to New York? Then I remembered La gare Centrale. Good thing I have a policy about giving directions.