Years ago, during college, I came to live in New York City for the first time, for the summer, and I was fortunate to room with my friend Jenny, who’d been raised in New York. She had lots of great information and advice for me, and she made it much easier to adjust to life in the big city.
She gave me a great suggestion that I continue to use to this day – and when I forget to use it, I often regret it. She told me, “When you get out of the subway, always take a moment to orient yourself to north. It’s a weird thing about the subway. You’ll often think you know the right way to go, and you’ll only realize after a block or two that you’re going the wrong way.”
This is such terrific advice. I don’t know why, but I’ve found that it’s really true that in New York City it’s very easy to charge off in the wrong direction, in the confident and unfounded belief that I know where I’m going.
Just the other day, I got off the subway in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, and I expected that I’d know exactly where I was. But it turned out that I’d walked up out the subway from a different exit than I usually use, and I was totally disoriented. I figured it out before I’d walked more than half a block, because I took the time to figure out where north was.
It’s good advice for any city, and for many different kinds of situations where it’s not clear which way to go: “Always take a moment to orient yourself toward north.”