The Route Less Traveled

I grew up in the age when directions were scrawled on hand-written slips of paper or consisted of “when you get to the stop sign, turn right at the old barn and continue until you reach the wooden bridge over the creek.” Before GPS systems were the directional methods of choice (Note: I am not THAT old…GPS systems haven’t been at our beck-and-call for too long).

I learned to read maps at an early age. My mom wasn’t much of a navigator, so as the eldest child, the role fell to me, and before TomTom and Garmin and built-in factory-installed fancy-pants systems, I was the voice in the car saying, “Take the next exit and keep right.”

Map reading is a good skill to have, and it’s a shame that soon we’ll be so reliant on the GPS on our phones and in our cars that we won’t really know where anything is. It’s a different kind of being lost…knowing exactly where you are by the little dot on the screen, but having no idea where you are at the same time.

I’m still a big fan of physical maps. Poring over streets and roads and landmarks, plotting out the best route to take: not based on traffic or time or distance, but the experience that’ll get you from Point A to Point Z, and all the points in between. I’ll admit sometimes I get a bit overzealous with the route (just ask my husband about that one time in Paris), but it’s comforting to me to be able to hold the map in my hands –not worried about cell signals or satellite feeds or punching into into a screen that only accepts 1 in 3 pokes of the finger (I’m looking at you crappy Chrysler navigation system). Reading maps and plotting my own course has worked great for me 99.9% of the time. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I succumbed to what can only be called Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering.

There were many problems with this particular map I was using: 1) it’s not to scale but doesn’t indicate that anywhere; 2) certain areas of the map are conveniently cut-and-spliced out of correct orientation to fit on the page, but which direction is north is indicated; 3) roads are mis-labelled (or completely missing). Basically, it’s a disaster of black ink on white paper.

Being relatively new to the area, I didn’t catch issues 2 or 3, and 1 didn’t seem like that big a deal. So, I glanced at the parks and rec provided map, found the field where my son will have his first soccer practice in a few weeks, and decided to scope it out on the way back from the grocery store. What a mistake!

I took the streets labelled on the map and ended up in the urban home development version of the Hotel California. I’ve never seen so many unmarked dead-end roads and cul-de-sacs in my life. It made me wonder if the street planners and map makers had an inside joke going on: let’s not mark anything and see how people fare.

Eventually we found our way out of the subdivision corn maze without ever finding a park of any kind. Since I wasn’t aware of map issues 2 & 3, I couldn’t get over just how badly my navigation skills were slipping. Had I lost my sense of direction? My memory?

I might have tried using my in-car navigation system to find it, but I hadn’t written the exact address down, and as it was, I wasn’t in the mood to spend the time trying to key it into the unit. Plus, I had frozen food in my trunk and it was hot out. All good reasons to head home and pull up Google maps.

Turns out, I needed to drive down a street that wasn’t even on the Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering and take a right to turn onto a road that actually goes East-West (not North-South!). Though I admit to feeling vindicated that I haven’t lost my map reading abilities, it made me wonder if anyone else has noticed the issues with the map I used or if they even care. Am I the last of a dying breed of people who prefer holding a map to a computerized voice who spouts “recalculating…recalculating…” when you don’t follow the programmed route?

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