She said that my good qualities were my bad qualities—this I have come to realize is true of everyone. On the one hand, I was game, eager and perfectly ready to see what was in front of me. On the other hand, I had no sense of direction or destiny. —Laurie Colwin
Those of us without a sense of direction have never known anything else; its absence is more annoying to others than to us. Actually, to us it seems normal to be marooned in a mysterious landscape, reliant on technology, at the mercy of others. Maps are of course inscrutable; they depend on an essential understanding of space. It is interesting, and sometimes enviable, that other people should have an internal compass. But also strange, and maybe even sinister. How do they know?
When I was in college, I worked one summer as an intern at a now-defunct travel magazine for brides. Three days a week, I took the train into Manhattan and did whatever needed doing in the office, which was generally not much. (The other two days, I waitressed in a local restaurant.) There were several other interns; one had a boyfriend who would periodically call her from Virginia Beach on our shared line, which happened to be on my desk, and say, “Can I talk to the most beautiful intern at Bridal Travel magazine?” I’d silently hand her the phone.
Anyway, over the course of the summer, our supervisor discovered that I could crank out plausible copy, so I started getting writing work to do, which at the time felt like an honor. I started out writing all the fake letters into the advice column. “I suffer from traveler’s diarrhea,” was one. “How do I keep the romance alive on our honeymoon?”
I was given more responsibility and, finally, because they were shorthanded and under the gun, I was asked to work on the Honeymoon Package. The Honeymoon Package was the centerpiece of each issue. It consisted of detailed itineraries for newly-marrieds: where to go and when, where to stay, what to do once you got there. I was assigned three locations: Greece, Route 66 (my idea), and the California Coast. “It’s straightforward,” said the editor, directing me to the shelf of guidebooks.
Route 66 and California were simple enough. Both just sort of involved staying on single highways, and the library of guidebooks I consulted had plenty of ideas for hotels and attractions. I’d phone each place to make sure it was still open, and altogether I felt very professional and journalistic.
Greece, however, was more problematic. I was overwhelmed with the romantic options before me. I thought of all the things I’d want to do if I ever made it to Greece. Obviously the couple had to go to Santorini. And Corfu. And Nafplio. And probably Rhodes, while we were at it. I threw in a few days in Athens and then suggested they read the Odyssey on Ithaca. I liked the sound of a certain taverna on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, so I directed them to go there—and then maybe a balloon ride over the Pindus? Not maybe. Definitely. This would be the best honeymoon ever!
As I put together the route, it occurred to me that the geography might not be the most sensical. But it was hard for me to tell where things were in relation to each other—the maps in my guidebooks were very confusing—and I reassured myself that it was probably all very close, anyway. How large could Greece be? Besides, wouldn’t somebody be fact-checking this thing?
Not long after, the editor walked up to me. “I assume this is all good to go, right?” she said. “It’s really down to the wire. You checked everything out?”
I nodded mutely, panic rising in my chest.
To this day, I wonder if someone tried to go on that honeymoon.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.