My drive home from North Park includes I-8, a latitudinal highway running west toward beaches or east toward El Centro. For the past three years I have taken the rightward path, east toward El Centro, the first part of a brief multi-highway corkscrew that led to my condo in Mission Valley East.
There are numerous features about a route that make it start to feel familiar: the curve of the onramps, the correct lane to be in for the next exit, the length of the merge. It becomes automatic, easily managed by a cognitive subroutine alongside listening to music or carrying on a conversation with a passenger. Thus, it is especially jarring when that route suddenly changes.
Moving under any circumstance is a significant life event, disrupting nearly every previously rote sequence of actions. Something as simple as taking a different route home evokes pangs of sadness and loss. It is a particularly stark reminder that one is no longer in the same place, that things have changed. Until that new path itself becomes familiar, it emphasizes that while there is a place of residence, there is no space that currently deserves the moniker, “home.”
Leaving North Park, I asked Google to “take me home,” and it began leading me through the first few familiar steps out of my favorite neighborhood. Merging onto the I-8 exit, the navigation voice gave a new instruction: Keep left at the fork.