Life is a Highway and Sometimes You’re Lost

I’ve complained about highways before.  I certainly have been to and lived in cities worthy of complaint.  In Washington DC I once saw someone cut perpendicularly across four lanes of traffic just to get to the other side of the road.  In Jacksonville, they practically put exit signs just after the exits.

But stay in school kids, because life is hard when you’re an illiterate driver.  In Japan-land, the base will provide directions to many fun places with these handy info sheets.  Yesterday my destination of choice was Yokota Air Base, a lovely base in a lovely town with the most fantastic amenity one could possibly hope for.  I am speaking of its hobby shop darkroom, a magical place I did not visit on my first trip to Japan, but will make use of as much as possible this time around.

It is projected to be a one and a half hour drive from Yokohama to Fussa, the city of choice.  I can only guess that this estimate is provided to drivers who can read.  But in yesterday’s battle against the Japanese highway system I am sad to inform you that I lost miserably.  I never made it to the base, but managed to lose myself in a city that, at least on the map, doesn’t even look like it was on the way to Yokota Air Base.  I can’t even say for certain what city I was lost in.  My best guess is Kawasaki and Shingawa.  But for the most part it’s a mystery.

But I can’t take all the credit.  These info sheets provided by the base are often written by individuals who are not masters of the English language.  I provide the following starting direction quote by way of example:

“Exit Negishi at Cardiac hill, turn right at the first light at the bottom of the hill then turn light again at the first light.  Take a left lane and go straight then turn left at the second light, and go straight for several blocks.”

With that I couldn’t even figure out where to start!  Not only that, but you have to pay to drive on the highway.  That’s right, the typical highway costs 600 yen, or about $6.  So when you get on the wrong one, you pay, and then to get on the right one you have to pay again.  This is highly irritating.

And pay I did.  Then of course once I realized I was going the wrong direction, the worldwide phenomenon occurred in which when one realizes she must exit, exits inexplicably disappear for the next 10 kilometers (or miles in the U.S.).  Not wanting to pay tolls blindly only to end up in Korea, I exited the expressway at the first opportunity.  This put me smack into a road with no turnaround, and dumped me onto a maze of roads loaded with trucks and an obscene amount of morning traffic.  Inch by inch I watched my precious darkroom time tick away, until I had to call it quits.

Blessedly, I managed to return home again safely.  But Jennie, you illiterate cracker, how did you manage to find your way back?  Well, this is the beauty of the iPhone.  Say what you will, skeptics, but I must say my handy cell iPhone with its GPS is a marvel of modern technology that helps illiterates find their way home again.  And I am thankful.

While I did have to give up traveling to visit my new friend Lindsay and my old friend beloved darkroom, I intend to try again.  Those Japanese road signs won the battle, but I will win the war.  They don’t know they’re fighting a ninja.