by Justice William W. Bedsworth
I am the son of a man who went to his grave without ever once having stopped to ask for directions. We travelled a lot when I was a boy and we saw a lot of things, but we never saw my father ask anyone how to get anywhere. He had maps and he had my mother, and if that wasn’t enough . . . well, we’d just have to wander around aimlessly until we died.1
My father’s vehicular version of rugged individualism left me badly scarred. In what psychologists would deem classic reaction formation, I used to ask directions every quarter mile. Until the development of automotive GPS, I was unable to back from the driveway to the street without reassurance about my route. My family was constantly embarrassed by me asking people on the street, “Excuse me, we’re looking for Utah; do you know if that’s anywhere around here?”
GPS saved me. I have no sense of direction other than up/down. If I’d been with Lewis and Clark, Seattle and San Diego would be suburbs of Eugene, Oregon. With my aid, Columbus would have discovered Germany. GPS was a lifesaver. Maybe literally.
My directional dyslexia was not a problem when I was a kid. I grew up in Los Angeles. Gardena, actually. The only places I wanted to go were ridiculously easy to find.
Wrigley Field?2 Take the Harbor Freeway to the sign that says, “Wrigley Field, next exit.” Then exit.
The Coliseum? Take the Harbor Freeway to the sign that says, “L.A. Coliseum, next exit.” Then exit.
The Sports Arena? Go to the Coliseum. Walk across the lawn.
Later the freeway changed, but not the degree of difficulty. Loyola University? Take the San Diego Freeway to Manchester; hang a left. The Forum? Take the San Diego Freeway to Manchester; hang a right.
Law school was no different. I lived in San Francisco and commuted to Berkeley. San Francisco is a grid. It has two streets that don’t run at right angles: Market and Lincoln. It was impossible to get lost.
Berkeley was tougher. You could get lost in Berkeley, but I was there from ’68 to ’71; everybody was lost. I just drove across the Bay Bridge and headed uphill3 until I felt myself getting a secondary high from the marijuana smoke. That meant I was close enough to the law school to park the car.
I went years without a directional crisis. Then I came to Orange County. People with my sense of direction should not be allowed to live in Orange County. Or in any other part of North America from which you can see the Matterhorn.
Orange County is a cartographic LSD trip. I don’t know how anyone practiced law here before GPS. Heck, I stayed in the district attorney’s office for fifteen years because I knew how to get to the courthouse.
Private practice and the requirement of finding other places in Orange County? Out of the question.
Think about it, folks. We got two Chapman Avenues. Big ones. Big enough to have their own exits on three different freeways And neither of them houses Chapman University.
We got MacArthur and Jamboree, which wander around crossing each other like some weird arterial double-helix. The airport area looks like a DNA visual.
You know how you’d be afraid to go into some parts of Los Angeles after dark? My wife is afraid to go into Mission Viejo in broad daylight because the street map looks like the bucket of worms it is.
We got six hundred Spanish street names. We got Calle This and Avenida That and Via This and Paseo That. There are people who live on Avenida de los Fundadores in Rancho Santa Margarita. You’d have to start addressing their Christmas cards in August.
And when we decide we’re tired of a street name, we just change it. When I bought my first house in South County, the exit north of El Toro Road was Canada Road.4 Now it’s Lake Forest. The one north of Culver was Myford. Now it’s Tustin Ranch.
The exit south of La Paz was Oso Parkway; then they changed it to Pacific Park Drive. Then they changed it back to Oso Parkway. Now the exit is Oso but if you drive on it for awhile it just transmogrifies into Pacific Park Drive. Presto changeo.
These aren’t six-home cul-de-sacs, they’re arterial highways. This is tough for lawyers who have to find business locations, crime and accident scenes, experts’ offices, and the like. How would you like it if you were a doctor and they suddenly said, “Henceforth the carotid and the femoral will be known as Rockcreek Park Artery and the Paseo del Arterio? Until we change our minds again.”
And towns! Good Lord, we add a new town every few months. I’m still trying to locate Ladera Ranch and Portola Hills, and now I learn I have a friend in Las Flores. Las Flores??
I’ve coped. I plan every trip on Google maps, Waze, and whatever is the name of the nice lady who lives behind my dashboard and tells me, “Turn right, now.” They’ve kept me marginally mobile. Until today.
Today I read they’re hoping to re-institute the North-South high school football all-star game that had to be discontinued last year due to the pandemic. That’s great news; I love high school football.
But then I hit this sentence: “The boundary for selecting coaches and members of the teams will be the 55 Freeway.” Alright, that’s fine. Except, of course, for the fact the 55 Freeway runs NORTH-SOUTH! How can the boundary between the north county teams and the south county teams be a line that runs north-south?!
And how could it not bother anyone but me? The next sentence I read blithely explained, “Schools on the west side of the freeway will be designated as the north schools, and schools on the east side will be designated as south schools.”
Well, of course, they will. What else would they be designated in this Alice-in-Wonderland county?
Does this disturb anyone else, or is it just us directional anal-retentives who have difficulty living in a county skewed ninety degrees off plumb? I mean, the ocean is SOUTH here, for crying out loud. It’s supposed to be WEST.
Los Angeles is west! Honest. You probably thought it was north. When you go to L.A., you think of it as going north. But it’s not. At least not completely.
You go from Lake Forest to Redondo Beach, you’re not going north. You’re going west northwest. You go from our Juvenile Court to an appearance in Long Beach, you’re going due west. Brea to Bellflower? That’s southwest! It says so on my map.
But my brain says north. It shouts north.
L.A. is supposed to be north. The ocean is supposed to be west. It’s God’s law. But somebody spun everything ninety degrees here and now we got east-west football players representing the Union and the Confederacy. It ain’t right.
I therefore offer this modest proposal.5 I suggest we enact a county ordinance to accomplish for the compass what Daylight Savings Time did for the clock; make it accommodate our needs.
Let’s just have the Board of Supervisors legislate a ninety-degree “compass correction” to apply only in Orange County. Instead of turning the clock backward or forward, we’ll turn the compass ninety degrees to the right6 to align the county with the Cosmic Order of Things.
That will put L.A. to the north and the ocean to the west, where God meant for them to be all along. It will make streets like Beach Blvd.—which dead-ends at the beach—run east-west, like they should.
What’s that? We don’t like Daylight Savings Time, anymore? We’re going to change back to standard time and call it Calle del Clocko?7 And it will only apply if you are west of Jamboree and north of MacArthur?
I give up. Let the trial courts handle it. If they didn’t get most of ’em right, they’d have somebody smarter reviewing their work.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.