Thursday, March 13, 2008

Navigation - Part 2: The Power of Good Directions

To get to St. Armand's Circle, go right from the Inn entrance and the road curves around and becomes Ringling Blvd. In less than 5 minutes you'll be at the circle. Lots of restaurants on the circle and on the spurs off the circle. For a morning snack, go right on the circle to the next spur, which is the Boulevard of the Presidents. Cross the circle to the other side of the boulevard, go right, and in a few doors you're at a cafe serving bagels, coffee etc. Go back to the circle and continue around in the directions you were going, but do not cross the street and you will curve back onto Ringling again. You will come to The Blue Dolphin Cafe (perhaps more up your alley for a meal) where you can get a big breakfast or lunch. They close at 3 p.m. The bookstore is a few doors down from the Blue Dolphin.

That's part of an email that gave me some valuable information about Sarasota, Lido Key, and St. Armand's Circle. It is an excellent case study for what make good directions even accidentally so. My first full day at Lido Key I decided I wanted a hearty breakfast at the Blue Dolphin so after pulling myself out of bed at about 7:30 I strolled down to St. Armand's Circle to find my way to the cafe. I found the first cafe straight away. Perfectly described and found. It probably didn't hurt that the pedestrian traffic was so light that it was obvious from the sounds of people chatting just down the road and sitting outside on the sidewalk patio that that had to be the cafe where I could get coffee and bagels if I wanted too (but, that leads us off on another line from this post). I continued on around the circle looking for the Blue Dolphin. I followed the directions and couldn't find it. I had a couple problems: 1). I never did see street signs for most of the intersecting streets at the circle; 2). I totally missed the tiny sign for the cafe as I walked under it and did not notice the people inside the cafe eating their omelets, pancakes, waffles, and such. I think I had expectations of sidewalk seating or at least an open door with obvious restaurant sounds coming out of it like so many others. I walked around looking and then it ocurred to me to read the directions again and I found this bit, "The bookstore is a few doors down from the Blue Dolphin." Ah ha, another point of reference. I wasn't looking for the bookstore but I remembered seeing a window sign saying in big bold white print "BOOKS" and so I had a second point of reference to work with. I walked about down the street, came back tot he blue awning and this time noticed the people inside and when I stepped away from the door and could see the sign on the awning the sign for the cafe became obvious too. I had found my breakfast spot. The waffle I had was quite good.

Now if I had normal vision I suspect I'd not have had any trouble finding the cafe. I'd have seen the people inside right away as I walked past even if I did not see the less than obvious to a pedestrian on that sidewalk sign. The people would have been a great clue that this was the place. But having the second point of reference, even though in this case it was only their because I'd asked about bookstores, was an extra bit of very valuable information. Good directions work when they get you to a location with clear concise information but they also provide fallback information in case the route information isn't quite enough. It's why I often tell people that if they are coming from downtown and get to 7th Street they've gone too far. Sure they should see the sign for 5th Street but more than a few people have missed it and wondered what's up.
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