Friday, August 10, 2012

LOFT LIFE: Maps and me

I have made a big point of telling you all how bad my visual skills are. But, when it comes to maps, I am really good at them. I am the navigator on all of our road trips. On foot, my brother always said I can’t find my way to the back door, but in the car, I seem to have a natural sense of direction, especially when there is sun.

When I lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I traveled completely without maps or directions, and since everything looks the same--farmlands, barns, crops, etc., that wasn’t easy. But I followed the sun and knew if I were heading west, for instance, any road west should take me close to my destination.

This method of farmland navigation was really tested in Illinois, when I transversed Boone County looking for the food pantry to volunteer. I finally called the director for help. She asked me where I was, and all I had was a name on a mailbox. On hold, while she called her husband who grew up around there, she got back to me and directed me out of the maze with only that mailbox name. Amazing.

As you know, I don’t do Interstates, so this is all on surface, smaller roads, I am talking.

All was well until I moved to New England, where I opine frequently that they do not have enough money to pay for signs. Maps seem almost irrelevant in Massachusetts, where you could literally travel for 10 miles or more without knowing if you are 1) on the right route, 2) the name of the street. They do have street names at the perpendiculars, but that does you no good if you made a wrong turn five miles back--which I do often because the roads don’t really seem to match up to the map.

I map out a route ahead of time, study the names of streets, and still have no idea where I am on the actual road because it doesn’t make sense. And, I tell you, I am good at maps. 

My friends suggest I get GPS, which really raises hackles, because I AM the GPS system for my family. Also, I hate that smug woman’s voice telling me what to do. I feel like screaming at her and throwing the little device through the windshield. OK, maybe a slight overreaction, but I feel she is encroaching on my territory and she isn’t always right anyway. Then my friend suggested GPS’s have a choice of voices. Didn’t know that. I could get a friendly Australian male voice, which I might like.

Recently, on my way to a friend’s house, I was happily following my map to her place, 15 miles from my home, when I slammed into a snag--road construction. Pretty typical in New England summers.The police officers were re-routing people so I didn’t know the area well enough to navigate this well. Where I was supposed to turn left, after a right, I did that, and then asked the officer if I was on the road I thought I should be on--and I was not. Had I turned right there, as I found out later, I would have been two blocks from her house. As it turned out, I meandered northwest and ended up at the very intersection I had mapped out to avoid. Geesh. This was not good. Now I was late, and still had no idea where I was. Correction. I knew where I was. I just didn’t know where I was going. 

I called my friend, and she stayed on her cell to direct me back to within two blocks of where I had made the wrong turn.

Suffice to say, now I know how to map around the detour. 


But, really, even though I do pay my fair share and much more, I am willing to donate some tax money for Massachusetts to put up a few signs in my area. 

But, my Mass. friends tell me they don’t repost them when they are vandalized because they will just be lifted again by those hoodlums. Oh dear.

So, do you think I should break down and get that Aussie to help me? But, then there is the risk of my car being vandalized to get the GPS. An officer patrolling a shopping center parking lot even told me once that thieves break into cars even if they see the adhesive remnants on the windshield. So other than my protective feelings about my role as navigator-in-chief, since I cannot be pilot-in-chief, I do not need to worry about someone breaking my car windows.

What’s a navigator to do?