by Bill Purdin / Illustration by Gail Robinson

Walking along down at the Franklin end of Washington Street with a steaming cup of coffee and the Sunday New York Times, dreaming of a cozy afternoon at home, I was suddenly hailed by a driver with the fateful words, ''Can you tell me how to get to the Boston Yacht Club?"

If I had been asked how to get to the town of Zacatecoluca in El Salvador, it would have been no more difficult to come up with directions than from where we were to the BYC.

When I used to jog around Marblehead and a driver asked directions, I just kept running. If they were diligent and drove along beside me, I would make the attempt. But most of the time they weren't diligent and I simply escaped on my Nikes.

On this particular day, however, there was no escape.

The inquirer, a man in his middle forties, was replete with wife and four children amid the trappings of travel, all packed into and onto a new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. He had stopped at the intersection of Franklin and Washington Streets and leaned out the window towards me. Behind him were three cars with drivers who seemed to have similar questions, and behind them all, an MBTA bus was just rounding the corner, revving its engine and blowing exhaust with a sound like that of a rampaging sperm whale's blow hole.

To begin describing the best route to the Boston Yacht Club would take a lengthy explanation with an historical perspective, then a review, followed by a lengthy question and answer period. After an exhaustive and exasperating exchange peppered with quizzical out-of-town looks, and patient repetitions and frequent inquiries as to his comprehension, I might even end up actually leading him to his destination, knowing that he would otherwise get hopelessly lost.

The cozy afternoon started fading out, the Times got heavier and bulkier, the steam from the coffee seemed less vigorous. What could I say? The question, "How do I get to the Boston Yacht Club" just hung there in the air, unanswered. One wrong move and all would be lost. The car's license plate proudly proclaimed, ''ILLINOIS LAND OF LINCOLN." How could I take these folks, fresh from an eight lane highway, from here to the Boston Yacht Club with but a few seconds of directions on a street corner in the middle of a growing traffic jam?

I ran through the directions in my mind . . .

First of all, turn around, follow this street to Old Town Hall (that's the yellow building in the middle of the road) bear around to the right at first (but don' t go up the hill!) then to the left, then go straight up past Louie's (that's used to be a supermarket, it'll be on your left but it's not called Louie's, it's called Haley's Liquors). Go straight past Haley's until the road bends to the right and up a hill. You'll notice a tall building at the top, with a clock in its tower. That's Abbot Hall. (By the way, inside is the world-famous Spirit of '76 painting.) After you pass Abbot Hall take your first left, go straight into Lee Street (don't turn left or right.) Follow Lee Street down the hill to the left until you reach a stop sign. Stop. Continue on Lee Street, which, after the stop sign joins with Gregory Street, but it is still Lee Street (although there are no signs to tell you this.) You'll soon come to the Lafayette House which has one corner cut out of it. From there turn right, after stopping at the stop sign, and then veer right down a hill. And there, at the bottom of the hill, is the Boston Yacht Club.

If you have followed these directions you are all set. But if, on the other hand, you find yourself staring at the Marblehead Savings Bank, you know you've gone all wrong. Perhaps you've ended up at Crocker Park or maybe on the Neck at the Lighthouse. If so, you have three choices: get out of your car and enjoy where you've gotten to; ask someone where you are are and how to get from there to the BYC; or, come back to Franklin Street and start over . . . .

As I started to speak to the driver from Illinois, the cars behind him were revving their engines even more impatiently. The bus driver honked his horn impatiently. I looked at the man from the land of Lincoln. He looked at me. He was getting nervous. His wife was telling the kids to shut up. It was a rough scene.

The Book Review dropped out of my paper, I bent to pick it up, the coffee spilled. Another driver came by on the left and asked, as though all were well, "How do I get to Salem?''

Not angry, not even upset, really smiling and happy, I suddenly knew that where I stood was not a place to get anywhere from, rather it was a place to be.

I answered both tourists, speaking truthfully as I walked away, "You can't get there from here!''