Siri! Follow that bus!

FollowThatBus_150Whenever I’ve got the luxury of time, I try to scope out a school’s location ahead of time. I don’t do this for nearby schools (within 90 minutes) even if I’ve never been to that school before. But if it’s far enough away that I’ll be staying the night before in a hotel, if I get into town early enough, I’ll sometimes swing by the school the night before, just to get the lay of the land. What the heck. I’m there with not much else on my dance card for the evening, right?

Most of the time, the early foray hasn’t turned out to be necessary. Most schools have typically sufficient parking, and my smart phone would have gotten me there with no problems. But occasionally I’ve run into confusing locations that made me glad I checked them out in advance. Even when I HAVE pre-checked the location, the scene will be very different in the morning if I’ve been asked to arrive during that crazy student drop-off time.

Some obstacles to watch for:

• GPS inaccuracies. I don’t have this problem as often as I used to, but once, before I had a smart phone, my GPS wound me through a housing area, then tried to turn to get me to “turn right” into a parcel of woods with no hint of road. Another time, my GPS mistook two similarly named roads so that I found myself on the wrong side of the city 30 minutes before the start of my first assembly. (In that case, blessings upon the music teacher who kept the kids engaged until I arrived 5 minutes after the program was set to start.) My smart phone is “smarter” and more up-to-date than that GPS which seemed to have some old, inaccurate maps in its “brain.” Still I do check Google Maps before a visit, and print them up in case technology fails me. (You never know when you might lose a signal.) Printed maps are also useful if, for some reason, your GPS refuses to believe that any such address exists. In a pinch, you can look at your printed map and simply ask your phone/GPS to navigate you to the two roads that intersect nearest your destination.

• Sufficient parking. Sometimes, city schools have almost no parking at all. Even the staff has to rely on street parking. That’s when you’ll be glad you thought to ask your host in advance about parking. (Okay, I’ll admit, I often forget to ask myself!) but if you do ask, there may be as least a tiny parking lot where your host can set out a safety cone to reserve a spot for you. In my own forgetful defense, one reason I don’t have a solid habit of asking about parking is because I DO have a fairly common habit of checking Google Street View long before the visit. If I see a fairly standard parking lot around the school, I don’t ask for special parking.

• Drop-off Madness. If your sessions are slotted to begin first thing in the morning, you really should ask your host what to expect. Even then, it’s not fool-proof. Once, arriving in pouring rain, I pulled into the parking lot exactly as instructed by the principal. As I recall, she had suggested I park in her space in the staff area. But this meant swimming upstream past a line of drop-off cars, and angry gesticulations from parent parking volunteers. Couldn’t really be helped, and not much I could have done otherwise, but in the years since, I do try to figure out drop-off traffic in advance. A yellow-slickered parent is nothing to trifle with!

One trick I keep hoping will work but which never seems to: following the nearest yellow bus. In some cities, schools cluster quite near to each other, even schools that serve the same aged students. So even though I want to just follow the nearest bus when I’m feeling a little lost, I know it’s just as likely that bus is headed for the wrong school.

Have you devised any tricks to smooth out your arrival time? I’d love for you to share them as a comment.

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