Sunday, July 20, 2014


A friend posted this article on Facebook and it had me writing a long comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog instead.

Both printed maps and GPS have their place. If I'm driving alone, following a GPS voice is safer than trying to fight with a printed map. But GPS devices don't provide that larger overview (or if they do, the screen is too small). I like to have a sense of where I'm going, and to confirm that the GPS is indeed sending me in the right direction.

I was always the "navigator" in my family of 5. Dad did the driving, and I was always in charge of the maps. My mother, whose famous quote is: "I could get lost in the Sears parking lot," was never great with maps or directions, so that duty fell to me.  I don't recall why, maybe I asked to look at the map and figure it out?  I could look at maps for hours, staring at the routes, seeing where they go, looking at fun or different city names, mountains, parks, etc. Give me a map, and I can figure out how to get us from A to B.

One of our trips to Florida involved a drive from Kissimmee to Cape Canaveral to visit the Kennedy Space Center. My older brother was in university and wasn't with us, so it was just me and my younger brother in the backseat. On the way back, I don't recall why I wasn't on map duty, it may have been one of the rare times where I couldn't figure it out.  We were lost, and my Dad was trying to read the map. He got so frustrated he crumpled it up and threw it in the back seat. My brother and I each turned and just stared at the ball of map as my Dad stomped on the gas to just figure it out on his own. This incident was hereafter known as "Crumple Crumple Throw."

My Dad always did all of the driving on our road trips. He could go to a city once and remember how to get around, with one exception: Boston. For some reason, that city didn't stick in his head. May have had something to do with the fact that Boston is always under construction. He used to say he could keep 50 cities in his head, but Boston must have been the 51st because he could never remember it.  If I asked him now, he's probably been there enough times that he knows it. "50 cities" always makes me chuckle, as I'm sure that's more than I can remember.

On our first date, John and I got turned around and a bit lost in Tucson. It was after dinner, during which we were both very nervous, and we had driven off into what became a very dark and desolate area. Cue the feelings of "he's taking me out to the desert to kill me." He handed me his atlas and we figured out where we'd gone wrong, and the task of map reading help break the tension of our first date, as well as showcased my map reading skills in an area I'd never visited before.

Three years ago, John and I went on our first big road trip as a married couple.  We weren't sure whether we would want to kill each other by the end of it, but we hoped we'd travel well together. We drove to Montreal, down to Pennsylvania, and back home.  John likes to play the "gas mileage game," where he constantly monitors his gas mileage, sees how each tank of gas reacts, etc. I like to get somewhere as fast as possible, which isn't good on gas mileage. Since we were driving in his truck, he wasn't thrilled with my lead foot, and I got annoyed having to keep checking myself and my speed. So we gravitated toward John doing the driving of his vehicle the way he liked (and, honestly, less likely to get a speeding ticket) and I handled the GPS, maps, navigation, passing of water/snacks, cleaning of glasses, etc. It worked out well and has been our configuration ever since, unless John needs a rest from driving.

On that particular trip, we found that as we were driving through Maine to Quebec, the GPS was lacking in that large-overview way. I like to see the bigger picture, to see where the GPS is taking me, to mentally confirm that indeed this is the right way. Or if there was construction, I could quickly see and determine a better route. Though our GPS could give an alternate route, I liked the reassurance. We stopped at the CAA in Sherbrooke to pick up maps of the Northeast and I felt much better about our plan. While in Montreal, it was the printed map I broke out to visualize our route to Pennsylvania. When the GPS listed its directions, I already knew and agreed that it was the right way, such as avoiding NYC even if it was a more direct route.

I still have my box of maps I've collected over the years, as well as a pile in my glove compartment. I don't need them very much anymore, but I have the comfort of knowing that they're there if I need them. I can still pull them out and be fascinated for ages. It's one of the things I know I'm good at and can be trusted with.

1 comment:

Liza said...

What a beautifully written memoir of the men in your life and their "use" of maps! A pleasure to read and ... follow along!